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Visiting Florence (Where’s the Machine?)

The walls that enclose the rail line are covered with graffiti, and the train terminal feels grimy and is filled with a lot of shady-looking characters. Like Naples, we were also warned about this place, Florence – about the pickpockets lurking in the train station, dressed as tourists. And we were warned about the drug pushers that hang out in front of the Santa Maria Novella church, which is the main thoroughfare to walk into town from the train station. Thankfully, no one bothered us on our way to explore this new destination.

First observation: there seems to be a monopoly on kitschy (crappy) products sold on the street. It’s not just here – it was in Rome, too. The Africans hock handbags and watches on pedestrian bridges and the fringes of piazzas. The inner parts of the piazzas are overrun with Middle Eastern men selling prints of famous art and small helicopter-type toys. You shoot those things way up in the air with a rubberband and watch them slowly twirl back down to the earth. Since they are lit up with a little blue LED, they actually look really cool at night. But the street salesmen are a bit scary and enough of an annoyance that it seems best to not give them even half-a-second of your valuable vacation time.

The Duomo (a.k.a. Basilica of St. Mary of the Flower) is a magnificent structure that, fortunately, we had a beautiful view of from our hotel room. Although the church itself is a magnificently grand structure, the really eye-catching parts are the bell tower and dome. Tours of both are available and, to reach the top of the dome, you climb up 400-some steps and navigate through a number of corridors too tight for the people exiting and the people entering to pass through at once.

The view from the top is incredible, though some people were apparently pretty nervous being about 375 feet up on a structure that is approaching 600 years old. I found it worth the risk. It was awesome seeing the other beautiful cathedrals, the castles off in the distance, and the people on the bell tower across the way looking at you through binoculars and cameras.

The view from our hotel room of the Duomo

Our dinner choice came about from a recommendation by one of my coworkers. “When you’re in Florence,” he said, “you’ve gotta try the blueberry steak at a place called Acqua al Due. It’s incredible.” So we did, and it was. In fact, this was one of the best dining experiences I have had in Italy so far. The bottle of house Chianti was delicious and fairly priced, and the blueberry steak was something to behold. The steak was a rather nice cut and fantastic by itself, and the blueberry sauce was a great, unique extra touch. Alone, the sauce tasted a lot like barbecue, though the blueberry flavor really popped out on the steak. I’ve gotta figure out that recipe, or at least something close to it… Unfortunately, we were seated next to a group of about ten college kids and two of their professors. They were a little on the loud side, which took away from a more intimate, fine-dining experience, but they were okay.

Florence is the home of Michelangelo’s statue of David. The line to get into the Accademia Gallery that houses it and the sun beating down were both brutal. My lovely lady was getting a little frustrated, as was I to some degree. But when we finally made into the gallery and turned the corner to see the statue, all of that previous tension vanished.

In photos, the David statue looks like….just another statue. But in all actuality, it’s 17 feet tall and was immaculately sculpted: David’s muscles are engorged, as if he just finished the fight in which he slayed the giant. Veins in his arm are visible. The intense look on his face seemingly turns into a slight smirk, depending on your vantage point. I don’t understand the hype over some things, but this one I get. It was truly the work of a master artist, who was only 26 years old when he started sculpting this piece.

Back to that “hype” thing, the Uffizi art gallery is regarded as another one of Florence’s treasures. It’s an enormous museum, filled with paintings and sculptures that have been around for centuries. I wouldn’t exactly say “Once you’ve seen one piece, you’ve seen ’em all,” but the paintings in the Uffizi are almost exclusively of a religious nature, and the sculptures that line the hallways are mostly of people you and I don’t know a single thing about. You really have to like marble and depictions of the Madonna to make the most out of a visit. I will say that there were definitely some “wow!” moments in the gallery but, honestly, I missed the reason why demand is great enough that the travel books recommend buying tickets in advance. We didn’t and waited in line 45 minutes to get in.

Florence is a beautiful town, and I continue to feel blessed to have this opportunity to explore and gallivant around Italy… though it ain’t cheap! Until next time… ciao!

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