3 Days in Florence

Posted: July 12, 2015 in Florence, Italy, Nikola Jajic, Renaissance, Travel, Vacation
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Our brief reprieve from travel had expired, and our time in Rome was at an end. Florence lay ahead. Preferring a train ride through Tuscany over a flight anywhere, we would need to navigate Rome’s Termini station in order to find our passage there.

The train station was abuzz with travelers, refugees, and vagabonds (Not sure on the latter two, but it reads cool, eh?). The initial chaos of the train station caught us off guard. I spent my first few minutes at Termini, slowly spinning in place. It was a desperate attempt to collect my bearings, while also locating the spot where a couple of newbies could purchase train tickets. Of course, we had spent the last three nights drinking and eating too much, so I quickly stopped with the spinning.

Soon, Maria was pointing us in the right direction. I broke away from the random sign I was trying to translate (I think it said something about paninis) and followed her to the kiosk, where we were able to secure our tickets.

The train ride was picturesque, and I couldn’t help thinking about the possibilities of a train that could go all the way to Chicago from Italy. Maria mentioned something about science and the many other impracticalities of my new universal train theory, but I was fairly certain someone would figure all that out. When the idea started to seem a tad naïve, even to me, I mumbled something about Elon Musk, and left it at that.

DAY 1:

We arrived, and checked into our hotel on a Monday afternoon. Most of the major museums we were planning to visit (The Uffizi and Accademia) were closed. We hit the streets, with an improvised agenda. A few blocks later, and we were strolling through the Palazzo Vecchio. Maria, the better photographer, snapped away as I followed along. Soon, we were outside the Palazzo, admiring the sculptures. Perseus, holding Medusa’s severed head, stuck out. Mainly, because it was quite badass.

I had read about the Firenze Card, and wanted to buy them, so we could pass the ticket-buying lines on our subsequent days there. The cards were over 70 euros each, and while they allowed admittance into most of the museums, my frugal nature won out, coming to the conclusion that lines weren’t all that bad.

The scooters raced down streets, as we walked the city (and eventually got lost). We watched as college students flirted. At one point, we stumbled into what appeared to be an amateur video shoot. One college-aged tourist, took a video of her friend, as she strutted down a street confidently, tossing her hair dramatically from side to side. Her lack of irony made me cringe. She was living out her own imaginary cover shoot. We went on our way, giggling about college kids in general.

We followed the crowds to the Duomo, and were stunned at the grandeur of it. We stared at the baptistery doors for a long while, trying to make out each panel. Afterward, we just walked in circles around the square that the Duomo lies in.

Later, we walked the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. I held my wallet close, as we window shopped at the gold and silver shops that line either side of the bridge. After browsing a bit, Maria lost interest, and I breathed a sigh of relief. We ended up at a more affordable market of silks, purses, and other touristy knick-knacks.

The bronze boar was in this market. And as the legend goes, if you feed it a coin and rub its snout, you will return to Florence, one day. I remembered our near miss at the Trevi Fountain, a couple of days earlier, and realized that our adherence to the ‘Do over’ rule had paid off.

Hey pretty lady, I'm your little pig.

Hey pretty lady, I’m your little pig.

Maria rubbed the snout, gave it a coin, and even a peck on the cheek for good measure. The fates had seen to it, and our cup overfloweth with good vibes.

 DAY 2:

There was a lot of Renaissancing to do and little time to do it. We were out the door early. First stop was the Uffizi. With no Firenze cards, we bought reservations, grabbed a cappuccino, and headed back at our scheduled visiting time, an hour later. As with Rome, our phones were abundant with Rick Steves audio tours, including the Uffizi. We strolled through the museum and listened to the guide’s interpretation of the legendary paintings and sculptures that stood only a few feet away from us. Soon however, the audio tour and the museum took different paths. Apparently, a lot of what was in the tour had been moved around inside of the museum. So, we went it alone, silencing Rick Steves and depositing him back into our pockets.

There were many standouts in the museum, the birth of Renaissance paintings, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, etc. But Caravaggio, who always gave me the creeps, didn’t fail to do the job again in the Uffizi. That guy really had a penchant for painting rape and murder. Maria was not his biggest fan, though I knew that the technical brilliance and life-like quality of his paintings amazed her just as much as the rest of us.

Knowing that Caravaggio creeped her out, and being the obnoxious twelve year-old that I am, I soon developed a devious Caravaggio impression (Think Roberto Benigni meets a pervy Hannibal Lecter). My Caravaggio was half-Christian, half-sadist. He spoke passionately about his hobbies and interests with Maria. She didn’t like him very much, or at least not my impression of him, but it came naturally, and I had trouble parting with it.

Carvaggio's famous shield: Medusa with morning breath

Caravaggio’s famous shield: Medusa with morning breath

After hours of walking the museum, we adhered to our siesta rule. We were on the streets once more in the late afternoon. We ran into a dozen or so Hare Krishna’s. I hadn’t seen this many Hare Krishna’s since that Airplane movie. They played instruments, sang catchy songs, and danced through the streets. They were very happy. They also had some sort of portable sound system, and soon the street vendors, shop keepers, locals, and tourists alike, were all taking in the show. The songs were fun and catchy, but the lyrics were mostly just the words “Hare Krishna”.

Full disclosure: Neither Maria or I knew exactly what a Hare Krishna was. They kept it funny and breezy though, so they got points for that.

That night we shared a giant plate of Bistecca Florentina at a small restaurant in St. Croce square. Maria overheard the couple behind us talking about how large the entrée was. As is in my nature, I made a dick joke.

The meal was amazing. Rustic Tuscan food at it’s finest. Let it be known: If someone was to say that they saw me in the square on that night, and I was stuffing my face, with tears of fat-kid joy streaming down my cheeks, I would not dispute it.

After dinner, we walked through another area of the city. We sat and enjoyed a bottle of wine in a piazza off the beaten path. We listened to locals, as they had boisterous conversations all around us. A Transgender woman sat with friends and enjoyed the night, even as she shooed away a disheveled homeless man who wouldn’t leave her alone. Two dogs began to ferociously fight in front of a church near us. Their owners finally breaking it up, as everyone, including the disheveled homeless man, stopped to watch. Seconds later, the crowd was back to their night, as were we.

DAY 3:

The Reanaissancing was still upon us, and we, the humble travelers, would heed its call. The day started out with the Gallileo Museum, a cool little spot near the Uffizi. The most interesting artifact, in my morbid opinion, was Galileo’s middle finger, which was encased in glass, and according to a certain guide book, eternally flipping off creationists everywhere. It was a pretty long finger… uh, just sayin.

Later, we visited the Bargello, a museum inside of a medieval castle, which is the home to amazing sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo. Here, the ghost of Bistecca Florentina from the night before, decided to remind me that it still possessed a certain part of my body. I turned and faced walls, lifting a leg subtly, and then hurrying away like a spy after a hand-off. I disappeared into the distance from time to time, and reappeared next to Maria seconds later, while others sniffed at the air and shook their heads in disgust. Maria occasionally took deep breaths, holding them like an expert diver, as I left my scent with the castle’s history.

After that, another siesta. These were quickly proving to be one of my favorite parts of the day. In the late afternoon, we went to see David at Accademia. I was a little worried about this, of course I wanted to see it, but I wondered how different this sculpture would be from the imitation that sits in front of Palazzo Vecchio. Would it disappoint? I wasn’t going to lie to myself if it did, I knew that much.

It did not disappoint. The sculpture did what I heard and read it would. It inspired awe. We had seen many scultptures of David, by other talented masters of the craft, but there was something different about this one. It seemed to have the final say on sculptures, hell, maybe even on Renaisance art. It was a high point, for two random people, who are not art experts, and aren’t all that religious either.

That evening we had dinner in the Oltrarno neighborhood, on the other side of the Arno River. While walking back over the bridge toward our hotel, we realized the sun was setting on one side of it, and the moon was rising on the other side of it. There was a metaphor at play in that moment. One which I still can’t grasp. We sat on that bridge for a while, and watched as the sun set and the moon rose.

My lanky arms double as selfie-sticks in a pinch.

My lanky arms double as selfie-sticks in a pinch.

Michelangelo’s David, like much of the art we saw in the last two days, was transcendent in a way I couldn’t fully articulate or understand. We stared up at them, these paintings and sculptures that shaped a world. Each of them leaving us quiet and reverential. Even my well-practiced Caravaggio impression took a backseat.

I’m vividly reminded of a book I read, as I write this. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tart. Actually, I’m reminded of a passage from it that struck me as especially poignant. I was thinking about this passage while we were leaving Florence:

And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things. And looked out for them. And pulled them from the fire. And sought them when they were lost. And tried to preserve them. And save them.

While passing them along from hand to hand. Singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time, to the next generation of lovers… and the next”

Our experience there felt like that.

The art and history of Florence swirled in our heads. And the most important thing I can remember isn’t any of those details. It’s that we were standing there, in the soul of that city, a city that once inspired the world, and we were in its presence, taking it all in, together.


Continued later this week in: 1 Day in Venice



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