Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to Fully Explore Two Italian Cities and Completely Exhaust Your Spouse in Two Weeks, Part III

Day 6

Deciding to forgo the hotel's nine-euro breakfasts, we stopped and had cappuccinos and sandwiches for breakfast -- seventeen euros. I guess the hotel's prices weren't bad, after all.

San Lorenzo has an unfinished facade because the Medicis pulled the plug on their pet project prior to its completion. Inside, though, it's beautiful. The church is connected to a cloister that features a Michelangelo-designed library, which is as large as a church and lined with rows of pews on both sides of the room. The books originally would have rested on the angled ledges above the benches. At the end of each bench is a small plaque indicating what texts were kept there. The Medici Chapels are also connected to the church. One of the chapels was designed by Michelangelo, but never completely finished. There are still doodles and drawings on two of the walls, including a caricature of a Roman soldier and a sketch of the window design for the previously mentioned library.

We walked from San Lorenzo to the Ponte Vecchio, where we encountered a couple from Connecticut. We took a photo of them together and then they took one of us together -- the only one of the whole trip. We ducked into a restaurant to get out of the rain and shared a plate of risotto with mushrooms and chicken with mashed potatoes. After the meal, I had an espresso, which was actually better than I remembered.

At the Palazzo Pitti, there was a special exhibit of Carravaggio, who happens to be an artist Dan admires. We spent an hour studying Carravaggio, then proceeded to wander through room after room of the palace's regular collection.

Though there were no taxis at the taxi stand, an Italian gentleman kindly called one for us. It we'd had to walk back to the hotel, I'm sure Dan would have complained bitterly every step of the way!

Day 7

Thinking to save our legs for later exertions, Dan asked the hotel clerk to call a taxi to take us to Piazza della Signoria, the public square where David's copy and another dozen statues stand vigil. We found a cafe and had breakfast before visiting the Bargello, a three-story statuary museum featuring the work of most of Florence's greatest sculptors. Donatello's David is one of the main attractions there. After spending a couple of hours there, we exited into another rainy day. Setting a course for the Duomo, we waded through people and puddles until I suggested we find some lunch.

The restaurant we ducked into turned out to be one I'd read about in my guidebook: one-hundred-and-fifty years old and famous for its food and its clientele. I recognized it not by its name but by the bust of Woodrow Wilson that was across from our table. Instead of an anniversary dinner -- our fifth anniversary, by the way -- we splurged on a delicious lunch. Dan ordered the risotto and roasted potatoes and I ordered Chicken Vesuvius. Everything was wonderful.

Refreshed by our meals and the respite from the rain, we headed for the Duomo Museum to see the original Baptistry doors -- which, of course, were in renovation instead of on display. However, the rest of the collection was well worth the price of admission.

Day 8

After a quick glance at the weather forecast, we decided today was probably our best chance to visit the Boboli Gardens, located just behind the Palazzo Pitti.

First, though, we stopped for lunch at the highly recommended Trattoria Za Za. Located near the Mercato Centrale, the restaurant is a rambling space colorfully decorated and busy with locals and tourists. Dan ordered the spaghetti alla Carbonera and I had the ribollita, a Tuscan vegetable soup with bread in it. I've got to find a recipe for that soup! And the cheesecake we ordered for dessert was heavenly -- the best we've ever had.

Dan had been dreading the gardens after catching a glimpse of them a few days ago. However, once we started the climb and were able to see the ever-more-impressive views, he began to enjoy himself. At the top, a formal garden offers views of the Tuscan countryside. I think Dan was more impressed by those views than the art we've seen in the museums.

We spent most of the afternoon wandering through the gracefully decaying gardens. We exited by the Roman Gate, only to discover there were no taxis at the taxi stand -- again! We hiked back to the front of the Palazzo Pitti -- at least a mile -- and were lucky enough to catch a cab there.

Though our feet were tired, we had a nice day -- the only almost-sunny day in Florence besides the afternoon we arrived. Our nature walk gave Dan a much-needed respite from the museum-heavy vacation.

Day 9

Cold, wet, and rainy. Having packed light (one carry-on bag apiece), we spent the morning doing laundry. After having a taxi take us back to the Trattoria Za Za for an early lunch, we walked to the Medici-Riccardi Palace. Its greatest feature is the tiny Chapel of the Magi.

We walked to the Uffizi afterwards, but the line was outrageously long and we were soaked to the bones. We decided not to wait, instead stopping for sandwiches and sodas to take back to our room so that we could stay in the rest of the night. Even I had reached my saturation point on the bad weather.

Day 10

Rested and renewed, we hired a taxi to take us to Santa Maria Novella. Unfortunately, the church was closed until one o'clock. We were able to tour the adjoining museum though, which was interesting. Sadly the frescoes are faded to shadows, but the vestments and reliquaries on display were interesting.

From there, we walked in torrential rains along the Arno toward the Palazzo Vecchio. Remembering that Ristorante Paoli was nearby, we searched it out for lunch. The waiters remembered us and returned us to the same table we'd shared on our anniversary. The meals were excellent. I chose to forgo dessert in favor of the promise of gelato.

At the end of our meal, I heard a waiter announce, "C'e il sole!" We emerged into the first truly clear sky since our arrival -- finally!

We walked back to the Palazzo Vecchio and explored the huge structure, which was begun around 1300 or so, then added to and modified over the course of centuries. Today, it is both a government building and a museum. In my opinion, the most interesting rooms were the ones renovated for Eleanora of Toledo, who died of malaria shortly after they were completed. Her chapel was particularly beautiful.

Though we intended to go to the Galileo Science Museum, we ended up at the Basilica di Santa Croce, where Michelangelo and Galileo are buried. The Gothic structure was unfortunately in the midst of renovations, so its true beauty was marred by extensive scaffolding. Still, I did manage to see a few of the frescoed chapels.

Dan's ankle had been hurting him for the last few days, so we decided to hire a cab and return to the hotel. Unfortunately, Piazza di Santa Croce is the only square in Florence without a gelateria, so my ice cream dreams were dashed.

To be continued.

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