“The Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo!” -Mark Twain, “The Innocents Abroad”*
In lieu of a “Welcome” sign, your arrival in Florence is marked by an increase in the amount of graffiti on walls running alongside the train tracks. At home in Los Angeles, dedicated crews remove such tagging in a perpetual game of Whack-a-Mole. Here, though, no one seems to mind, and you have to wonder if the oldest layers of paint date back to antiquity.
Pulling into the train station, we gather our belongings, disembark, and head for the exit. Having plotted out the path to the hotel, we step outside and locate the stairs for the subterranean tunnel, which bypasses the cars, scooters, buses, and tram traffic in front of the station.
We were warned about this passageway, about the pickpockets that dress like tourists to blend in. Some eyes follow us, but with a strong grip on our luggage, we walk with a purpose, stay aware, and all is fine. The next landmark along the way is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, as it’s normally called. We were warned about this place, too. Again, we stay aware, and our only slowdown is from a roma / gypsy woman intercepting our path. She projects at us in a language we don’t understand and pounds her fingers into her palm, practically demanding we give her something. Nope. We walk around her and continue on.
It takes 5 minutes more to reach the hotel, and what a beautiful place it is. In our room, I’m initially stumped by the numerous hinges and clasps on the window shutters. Once that’s all sorted out, opening the window rewards us with an amazing view of the Duomo. This massive church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, completed in 1436.
Giotto’s tower and Brunelleschi’s dome are shown rising above the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence, Italy, viewed from our hotel window.
The uniformity of Florence is nice and aesthetic, and we explore landmarks and the bridges spanning the Arno River. The Ponte Vecchio bridge, completed in 1345, is the only one in Florence spared from destruction during World War II.
The Ponte Vecchio bridge of Florence, Italy, completed in 1345, is shown spanning the Arno River during the early evening.
Dinnertime is approaching. While making travel plans months ago, a friend demanded we eat at Acqua al 2 (pronounced doo-Ā). Specifically, “You HAVE to order the filet mignon with blueberry reduction sauce.” “Okay… sure, Jeff… we’ll try it when we’re there.”
Now that “there” has turned into “here,” the restaurant happens to be a two minute walk from the hotel. We are the early bird diners yet again. It’s 7 PM, and we have the place all to ourselves. Having worked up a thirst from the day, we inquire about the house chianti bottles already on every table. It’s the best value on a budget, so we go with that, and wow, it’s really fantastic! The dry mouthfeel can perhaps be described like a bone-dry desert as a springtime storm approaches… tastes of juicy berries (makes sense) with an essence of wet gravel (or is it Italian marble?), a vintage leather wallet, and… okay, let’s forget all that. How about we just say the wine is delicious?
The start to our nice, quiet, romantic dinner is quickly broken up by a group of American college students and two of their professors, who get seated at the long table 5 ft. away from us. They’re having fun, and their travel stories we overhear are kind of interesting, so it is what it is.
Ordinarily, Janine and I try to order separate entrees at new restaurants, so we can try a little more of the menu. She wants a blueberry steak, as well, though. My friend was enthusiastic enough about his recommendation that this just might be okay…. It turns out it definitely is.
Simply stated, the meal is amazing. Plopping any sort of blueberry sauce on top a cut of filet mignon might be a criminal act in some countries, but as the saying goes, “If this is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.” Alone, the blueberry topping tastes like barbecue sauce, so it certainly isn’t the same, basic, sugary-sweet goodness that might go on a waffle. Whatever else goes into this, it’s so good and perfectly complements the entree.
Janine, chianti, blueberry filet mignon.
Soon enough, we are stuffed from dinner, so what should be a two minute walk to the hotel becomes more like an eight minute crawl.
At the start of a new day, we head out to explore. We make the five minute walk to the Duomo. The ticket line isn’t very long (but still buy in advance, if you can). After a short wait, we are en route to the top of the dome, up and up and up a total of 463 stairs. Along the way is an incredible view of the nave below.
The Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral nave in Florence, Italy is shown in a vertical view, viewed from a walkway under Brunelleschi’s Dome (aka Duomo), completed in 1436 A.D.
Above us is a giant, painted fresco depicting The Last Judgment, completed in 1579.
A depiction of The Last Judgment, completed in 1579, is shown on the interior of the Santa Maria del Fiore (aka Florence Cathedral) dome in Italy.
More stairs are ahead, actually hidden away inside the dome. They’re narrow and steep and certainly were never intended for all the two-way foot traffic.
The narrow access stairs for the Brunelleschi Dome atop the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence, Italy are show.
Once we start to break a sweat and wonder if we’re in shape at all, there are no more stairs to climb. Stepping outside, the strong breeze whips us, but it feels nice. Looking out, the reward for the effort is a 360 view of this old and beautiful city. On the other end of the church is Giotto’s Bell Tower. Its visitors are at a little below eye-level from us, a few hundred feet up. Some people wave. We pretend to not see them. Only kidding – of course we wave back…
Florence, Italy – June 4, 2012: Giotto’s Bell Tower of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is shown from the Brunelleschi Dome of the church.
In Florence, we also track down one of the world’s most treasured pieces of art – Michelangelo’s David statue. The marble sculpture was completed in 1504 and originally displayed outside. It was moved indoors in 1873, and seeing it can take some effort. I’m not naming any names, but someone in our travel party (of two) has no enthusiasm about waiting in line, with the sun beating down, just to buy tickets to see the statue. I understand, but what if this opportunity never comes again?
The line moves slowly, and we finally get in the building, the Galleria dell’Accademia (or “Accademia Gallery”). We go down a hallway, turn right, and there it is! What I never realized from mere depictions is that the David is nearly 17 ft / 5.1 m tall! Imagine if Michelangelo had made a Goliath statue…
Photos aren’t allowed during our visit, so here is someone else’s, apparently from a different time. [By Michelangelo, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17482094%5D
Right away, we understand why this work of art is so revered. Walking around it, David looks like he just finished slaying the giant. Veins stick out from his toned muscles. The look on his face is intense although, from a different angle, it seems to change to a slight smirk. Sometimes I don’t understand all the hype surrounding some artwork. This one makes sense. It’s a masterpiece and amazing to find out Michelangelo was 26 years old when he started carving this from a marble block.
Back to the mention about hype, yet another cherished site in Florence is the Uffizi art gallery. We stood in line for 45 minutes to buy tickets so, again, buy in advance, if you plan to visit. The museum is enormous, filled with centuries-old sculptures and paintings. I won’t exactly say “Once you’ve seen one piece, you’ve seen ’em all,” but the paintings in the gallery are almost exclusively of a religious nature, and the sculptures lining the long hallways are mostly of people I (and probably you) don’t know a single thing about. You really have to like marble and depictions of the Madonna to make the most of a visit here. As with any gallery, there are at least a few “wow!” moments but, honestly, the hype for this kind of place leaves me scratching my head.
Although Florence is a fairly small city, I’m certain there’s a lot we haven’t been able to explore. We’ll have to be sure to visit again. Our trip is winding down, with Venice the next and final stop before heading home.
Until we meet again…
"Florence, Italy" – June 2012 Written by: Justin Kilmer, Edited by: Janine Kilmer
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* – about that header quote, “The Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo!”… This one comes up time and again if you’re looking through Italy quotes from authoritative figures. However, it’s so far removed from context, it’s funny. In the Mark Twain book, “The Innocents Abroad,” a doctor named Dan is part of the author’s travel group. He’s fed up with the locals and guides in every city attributing nearly everything to Michelangelo. In frustration, Dan says to a guide “Enough, enough, enough! Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo!” Reading that genuinely made me laugh out loud, although reading more into it does seem to underscore Italy’s amazing cultural impact on the world.
Released in 1869, “The Innocents Abroad” is in the public domain and can be read or downloaded for free here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3176/3176-h/3176-h.htm
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