Friday 1st June
The train trip from Stazione Santa Lucia, Venezia to Stazione Santa Maria Novella, Firenze was an easy journey of about 2 hours. The long distance trains used throughout Italy are modern and very comfortable with power outlets, handy for Nintendo DS, waiter service moving throughout the cabin, dining cars and plush reclining seats. All of this, combined with an arm chair view of the scenery stretching between cities, makes for an ideal way to traverse the country.
There was alight rain falling as we arrived into Florence but this had eased by the time we made it tour apartment. We are in a great, central location on via Ricasoli, the street that runs from the famous Duomo, or Cathedral, up to the Galleria dell Accademia, home of the famous ‘David’. We are on the fourth and top floor which is hell for Mark carrying the luggage but great otherwise as there is no noise from above and loads of natural light flooding the space. We are lucky that is a large and lengthy layout as well, with a bedroom and bathroom at either end of the lounge/dining, galley kitchen and a large storage room.
We were in and settled with supplies purchased by 4pm so headed up the road, only one block, to have a walk and explore gaining access to the Accademia using our pre-arranged 5.15pm reservations. The first thing we noticed was the enormous queue for those poor souls who did not pre-book; it went for miles and was not moving meaning that most would not have got in, even after their lengthy wait. We passed the time by chatting to a friendly, young and interesting American couple whilst we waited to be called at our time slot. They were on a 10 tour around Italy with the girls parents and had also been to Venice. They, too, had found the locals to be really rude and had decided to call themselves Canadians thinking it was a US vendetta so were rather pleased when we told them that the Venetians seem to be rude to everyone.
The Galleria dell Accademia is a rather small academy which is surprising when you consider it houses one of the most famous sculptures in the world. It is almost as if they knew people would only really be coming to see the ‘David’ so decided not to bother with too much else. The gallery was modified during the nineteenth century to house the statue under an enormous light filled cupola. This magnificent presentation only further adds to the majesty of this central piece thereby diminishing the status of the remaining art; it was hard to draw yourself away from looking at the amazing work to view anything else. Annabelle overheard a couple of elderly American ladies drawl ‘it was worth 10 euros just to see him’. We all kind of agree; it is amazing. The piece of marble from which he is carved was rejected by two previous sculptors who claimed it was flawed and inferior. Michelangelo managed to transform this hard stone into the most lifelike of forms where you can see the gentle curve of muscle and the veins in his flexed arm. You feel that if you reached over to touch him that he would be quite warm, at about 370C, and quite fleshy. How does one do this with stone?
The Accademia was closing just as we finished being polite by checking out all the other pieces. We then headed to San Marco, another one, where we could not get a good look as they were saying the Angelus which brought back memories of Santa Sabina. From there w e strolled through the leather markets which Janet Lagudi had told us about. They looked interesting but Annabelle and I realised we would have to come back later on our own. We found a great place to have dinner at a Piazza near our apartment called Trattoria Za Za where the food was delicious and reasonably priced. From there it was off to find more gelato before turning in for the night.
Our first full day in Florence started with a 3 hr guided group-walking tour of the city. Our guide, Molly, was a young, articulate History PhD major from the US. She brought the Florence and its colourful characters, the Medici family, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi to name just some, alive for us. Molly condensed 2,000 years of history into 3 hrs as we strolled around the beautiful Old Town giving the most informative and interesting tour that I have ever been on. She involved the kids in her discussion and they enjoyed the tour as well with Annabelle claiming it was the first tour that has kept her attention for the entire duration! We finished the tour at the famous Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore. This is a huge and imposing cathedral in the centre of Florence with the remarkable Brunelleschi dome. The dome is an entire story in itself, taking over 100 years to complete and with tales of male pride and prejudice of competing famous artists. We all climbed the adjacent 85m high Campanile, or Bell Tower, which afforded spectacular views over the whole city.
Annabelle and I visited the leather markets after the tour whilst Tom and Mark went home. Marcos, a Brazilian stall holder who sold me some belts, noted how friendly us Australians were compared to the local Italians and other tourists. So, there you go, it’s not just us who notice these things.
I hooked up with Mark and Tom whilst Annabelle went on to do some more shopping. We went to visit Santa Croce; an amazing and huge Gothic Franciscan church from 1294. The main interest for us there though was the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and some of the key, fascinating Medici family. We did not spend as long there as we would have liked as we were hoping to fit in the Museo di Storia della Scienza, aka the Science Museum, before our 5pm Uffizi reservation. Our rush to the Science Museum was in vain though as it was closed for the public holiday celebrating the Republic. We caught up with Annabelle for the Uffizi and were again glad for reserving places months ago as the queues were phenomenal. I hate to admit it but, I was under whelmed by this Museum.
We ended up dining back at Trattoria Za Za, another nice meal
Mark Tom and I went to an Italian mass at the Duomo where Tom was a hit as he was the youngest there! We all then went out to Pisa which was a waste of time.