Without a doubt, Florence was my favorite city of our grand Europe tour. If you offered me a job in Florence tomorrow and had already worked out the living arrangements, I would contact a realtor on my way to the airport.
We arrived late in the afternoon exhausted from riding the trains all day. The hotel was actually outside the city – not a mistake I would make a again – so we had to take a taxi. Riding in a car in Italy is, by the way, very close to riding a thrill ride. We traveled a lot by car in Italy and all drivers were the same: fast and furious. Once we arrived at the hotel, we decided to stay in. We also had an extra day in our Italian itinerary, so, fraught with worry that I wouldn’t see everything, I convinced Cristina to spend the extra day here. Florence didn’t let my faith down.
As I mentioned earlier, we used the Hotel Ibis chain during our time if Europe. We did miss out on some old world charm, but we did have access to a private shower every night. Yet, at this hotel we got both. The girls at the desk, all about the age of twenty-two, spoke near perfect English and answered every question I had clearly and descriptively. Hell, if I didn’t know better I would think they were flirting with me. When I asked about the public transportation, they explained how to catch the bus and how to buy tickets. While I wouldn’t recommend the hotel because of location, it was the best stay we had in all of Europe.
After getting a good nights sleep, we headed out to Florence. For the first time, it was a very hot day. We had warm days up till this point, but none as hot as this. We make our way through the narrow streets of Florence, sweating, until we reach the Duomo or the The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The Duomo is one of those churches that when you first catch a glimpse of it, you pinch yourself to make sure you are awake. It’s beautiful. We go inside after the young girls that have to wear full body dental napkins to cover any bare shoulders and legs above the knees. The inside of the church reminds me of a dream I used to have of a church as a kid. The situation becomes fuzzy for me; now I’m not sure if I am awake or dreaming. Cristina takes my hand and that answers the question. The inside is as beautiful as the outside. To me the architecture of Notre Dame was about the power of the catholic church. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is about the beauty of the church. The inside of the dome is an amazing, dizzying work. You can go up there, but we knew it would be death on our legs so we decided against it.
We then stopped to get of a slice of pizza. Which might have been the worst mistake I made. Not because the pizza was bad. It was because it was that good. The pepperoni were so flavorful that I lamented that I might never be able to eat pizza stateside again.
We then head to the Duomo’s much less publicized museum, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Having the museum be a near secret makes for a much more intimate experience. We are close enough to touch works by Donatello and Michelangelo, but out of respect we refrain. Michelangelo’s Pieta — no not that one (don’t worry when we get to Rome I’ll talk about it) — was my favorite work here. This work, called The Deposition, was the work of an older artist one more worried with the emotion than the look. If you look closely at the old man, you see a Michelangelo self-portrait.
We then toured the Medici Chapel and a local market. Then, what happened next was the greatest single food moment of the trip and maybe of my life. Words will fail me if I try to accurately describe the first time I tried gelato. Fireworks went off. My eyes went in to the back of my head. Considering that this was very hot day, this enhances the mystical effects of the gelato. Greatest. Food. Ever.
We then head over to the piazza. We cross the river Arno, by the way of the Ponte Vecchio, but first we stop to take pictures and buy an Italian soccer shirt for Cristina to prepare for the World Cup. Remember, Cristina’s father was born and raised in Italy. On her eighteenth birthday, she got papers to be a dual citizen. Cristina and her sisters’ worst nightmare is a USA-Italy World Cup final. They would literally be torn in two.
Speaking of depression, we then decided to tour the Pitti Palace. The depression coming from that horrible pun. If I could do it again, I would have done the gardens and not the museum. Maybe, next time.
It was near five and we were famished. It was still too early for Italians to go out for dinner. The staff were having their meal when we walked into Osteria dell’Otia. We started off with a pasta course. Cristina had, well, neither one of us are quite sure what she had. Maybe, when we have time we look up in our journals what she ate. I had the carbonara. Let me just say, this might have been the finest day of eating in my entire life. I came real close to licking the plate, and not politely. For our meat course, Cristina ordered what I called melted cheese, cheese sauce, more melted cheese, chicken, with more melted cheese in a cream sauce. It was wonderful. I ordered the beef Carpaccio not even being sure of what it was. I was worried when I first saw it, since it is raw beef. Yet, I’m glad I ordered it. It was refreshing and a perfect way to end the day.
Exhausted, we took the hot box…I mean the bus back to the hotel. We wanted to go to the Uffizi Gallery and The Gallery of the Accademia di Belle Arti the next day. However, the next day wasn’t on our itinerary so we hadn’t purchased tickets yet. Wait time for tickets could last hours especially at the Uffizi. That meant we would miss out on a couple of other things we wanted to do. There were none to be found unless you paid for an over price guided tour.
It was worth every penny.