Monday, July 27, 2009

Florence, Day 1

Our last morning in Rome, Scott and I got up early to catch our train to Florence, which means we were also up early enough to catch the "American Breakfast" at our hotel. It was quite a spread, including everything from bagels to a full salad bar. We considered telling the them that we never, ever eat from a salad bar for breakfast in America, but we decided to leave well enough alone.

After breakfast, we rode a very crowded bus to Termini, Rome's train station. We were there extremely early so after waiting for an hour, we boarded our train and headed to Florence. The train ride was fantastic. The farther we traveled out of Rome and the closer we got to the Tuscany region, the more ideal the scenery became. We passed typical Italian villas perched above grape vinyards, drives lived with tall green trees. We saw rolling hills, olive trees, and a small village clinging to the side of a cliff. I wish that there was a way to stop the train or make it slow down--there's no good way to take a photo on a train, so unfortunately I have no photos of what we saw on the train.

When we arrived in Florence, it was windy and rainy, a welcome change from the sweltering heat of Rome. Our hotel directions stated that it was "steps away" from the Santa Maria Novella train station, and we literally crossed the street and found our hotel within 5 minutes. We couldn't have been happier after our terrible experience trying to find our hotel in Rome. Our hotel was small, family-run, and didn't have air conditioning. Fortunately, they had a fan and huge windows that opened out over the street--and it was rainy and cool outside. Otherwise, I'm not sure Scott would have survived.

After checking in, we headed toward the Duomo and found the cutest little restaurant for lunch. The family that ran the restaurant was friendly and happy, and I must say that my chicken pesto pasta was fabulous.

After lunch, we headed to the Duomo, one of the main (free!) sights in Florence. The Duomo was once home to some of the greatest Renaissance art. The art has been moved across the street to the museum, but the Duomo itself is still quite impressive. The facade was covered with gaudy green, pink, and white Tuscan marble, done to celebrate the unification in Italy "back in the day." (I can't remember the year). Construction on the Duomo cathedral was begun in 1300 and wasn't finished until 1435. It was bulit with a hole in the roof awaiting a dome. No one had discovered the technology to build a dome, but in true Renaissance spirit, they were confident that someone would figure it out soon. And they did--Florentine arcitect Filippo Brunelleschi bulit the first Renassiance dome and the model for all domes to follow. When designing St. Peter's cathedral in Rome, Michelangelo referred to the dome saying, "I can bulit it's sister--bigger but not more beautiful."

(please excuse the black in the corner--it's been edited out of the original but decided to show back up)

You can climb the Duomo's dome and get some fantastic views of the city, but Scott and I opted not to wait in the line since it had started to rain. We darted across the street to the Duomo Museum where we saw some fascinating art--wood carving of Mary Magdelene with matted hair by Donatello, choir loft sculpted by Luca della Robbia, and my favorite, a late pieta by Michaelangelo. A pieta is an artistic representation of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus after He had been taken from the cross. (The most famous is Raphael's in St. Peter's) Nicodemus at the top of the sculpture is a self-portrait of the artist. It's rough and unfinished in places but it's a beautiful piece and one of my favorites.

After the museum, it was still raining, so Scott and I took that as a sign that it was nap-time. After our nap, we headed out with Scott in the lead--we were in the hunt for some live music. Scott wanted more than anything to hear some live music in Europe, so after a visit to the very helpful Tourist Information center, we headed out to the local box office, only to find that they didn't open for another hour.

My favorite thing about Florence was is peacefulness. It was calm, the people were kind, and the city is totally walkable--no need for public transportation! So after our trip to the box office, we headed back to the center of town, following the river. Florence lines the Arno River and it is such a picturesque place. It feels like classic Italy. Rome is modern and spawling, but in Florence you are in true, Tuscan Italy.
After wandering along the river, we headed back to the box office and purchased tickets for that evenings performance--an orchestra! We then set out for dinner and found a gorgeous little restaurant on a side street with some of the best pizza I have ever put in my mouth. We then headed to the hotel to change into our "nice clothes," which was really wasn't that nice, considering that we were living out of carry on bags.

Scott was completely entralled by the orchestra. They were fantastic and it was truly one of the highlights of our time in Italy. I've never seen a happier man that Scott after the concert--that was the one "souvenir" that he wanted from whole trip.

After the performance, we wandered along the Arno, looking for some gelato. We didn't find any (it was too late) but the views were gorgeous.

I thought this little couple was precious. They were out for an evening stroll and greeted us very kindly when we passed them. For some reason, this photo struck a chord with me--it's one of my favorites from the trip.

We wandered for awhile, then walked back to the hotel. We'd had a fantastic first day in Florence and were going to see some of the most famous art in the world the following day.

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