Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Visiting the Big City

After our days spent in quiet, Tuscan hilltowns, we opted for a city day in Florence. For Nathan, Florence was a big let down - one of those situations where your imaginings don't live up to the reality you experience. Unfortunately, September was still high season in Florence. To make matters worse, we were driving into town from our beautiful, quiet village in the hills. This sounded so easy, but we hit traffic snarls going into the city, and then unwittingly entered the limited traffic zone while trying to get to the parking garage near the train station. When the camera pinged our car, we were already on a one way street going deeper into the zone. Oopsies.

After finally reaching a garage, getting parked, and taking a breather, we popped right out into the San Lorenzo zone, one of my favorites. And there we were, Florence. Gorgeous, history-rich Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, ancestral home of the Medici family, the place that holds one of mankind's greatest sculptures in Michelangelo's David - we were actually there, walking the streets...along with what seemed to be every other tourist in Italy at the same time. Shoulder to shoulder crowds - but that wasn't as bad as the shoulder to shoulder tour groups. Crowds are one thing, but congested streets of tour groups in packs is a completely different beast. Nathan and his aunt and uncle had reservations to enter the Uffizi, and we had just enough time to grab lunch before they had to pick up their tickets. From there, two of them were heading on down to the Accademia and David before our group reconvened in front of the Duomo in the afternoon. Interestingly, my favorite sandwich shop in Florence was completely empty. Located only a block from the Uffizi, it's a great place to grab a quick lunch on your own time schedule rather than your waiter's (that's another blog post, I suppose - eating in Italy).

I had an ambitious few hours of touring to do alone. Since I visited both the Uffizi and the Accademia back in February, I skipped them this time around in hopes of seeing the Scuola del Cuoio (leatherworks school) at the Basilica di Santa Croce, the Medici Chapels (reputed to hold the greatest of Michelangelo's works), the San Lorenzo market to pick up a few gifts, and possibly the Pitti Palace Gardens for some relaxation. I'd intended to add the Ferragamo flagship store just to see the shoe museum as well. I made it to Basilica di Santa Croce before realizing that I, too, had just about had it with the crowds...and the heat. I don't think I've mentioned that the last few days had been ones of record breaking heat. Skipping the leather school and doing my best to walk back alleys over to the Medici Chapels, I changed course. And happened upon the most beautiful ceramics store. Absolutely gorgeous work in the window just called me into the shop. I spent an enjoyable 20 minutes or so visiting with the artist and hearing about her accidental find of the color she was using on a current collection, one of which came home to Naples with me. Even better, when my friend came over to visit after our Tuscany week, she noticed my plate displayed on an easel and was so excited that I'd found the same artist she also loves in Florence. Good things come from haunting back alleys in Italy. (If anyone's interested, the shop is a few doors down from the Dante Museum.).

San Lorenzo Market & Basilica di San Lorenzo
I happily arrived at the Basilica di San Lorenzo, my next stop being the Medici Chapels. "Happily" because this place is right next to the San Lorenzo market, which was my one and only absolute "must stop" in Florence. One would think I would have guessed that these two places were near each other, both being named San Lorenzo and all, but it's a testament to the crowds and the heat that I had no clue until I popped out of an alley facing both the church and the market. By now, I'd reached the point where I was ready to find a quiet piazza and a glass of wine to sit with my Kindle. I quickly took care of my market business and headed into the Basilica after paying my 4euro entry. And then I couldn't find those darn chapels anywhere. You know why? They are behind the church at a separate entrance...with a separate entry fee. Annoooooying...but I was on the trail of those Michelangelo sculptures. The ground floor of the chapel is filled with ornate, intricate reliquaries with bones of saints fit into extravagant, filigree work in silver and gemstones..."dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun'"...everyone sing it with know, the old, southern spiritual song..."the head bone connected to the neck bone" and so on. Anyone? Anyone at all? Okay, enough of that, time to head upstairs to the sarcophagi topped with Michelangelo sculptures. I have to say, they just didn't speak to me. They were nice. But not nicer than, say, a glass of wine and a quiet piazza.

And that's exactly what I found. At time to meet up with the group at the Duomo, we lucked into a table located front and center in front of that glorious dome and enjoyed some rest time catching up with each other while gazing at one of the western world's most famous churches. With everyone all Florenced out, we headed out of town to go to dinner in Siena...and see the gorgeous Campo at twilight. Living in Italy can be challenging, frustrating, exasperating, and exhausting...but then we get a reward like getting to see the treasures of Florence by day and walking Siena's romantic streets by night, all in the same day. Life can be pretty good.
Is there any prettier sight in all of Italy? Maybe, but Siena's Il Campo at sunset is pretty awesome.

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