Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Florence and Farewell (Letter # 16 from Italy: May 2 and 3, 2013)

Day 1 in Florence is a bit of a blur. After a fitful night’s sleep, I catch the 6:39 a.m. train from Pieve San Lorenzo to Florence, arriving mid-morning. My first stop is for coffee and a pastry (this has become our usual mid-morning ritual, and although Judith blessedly got up early to make me coffee before I hit the road – or the tracks as it were – I’m ready for a fresh hit). I go into the first café I see, and order a café latte and an apricot tart. We’ve become so spoiled by the prices of coffee and pastry (3 or 4 Euros usually gets both) that I am more than a bit surprised when the man behind the counter tells me I owe him 7 Euros (this is my first hint at Florence's elevated prices).
I’m unable to check into the hotel for a couple of hours, so leave my backpack there and begin wandering the city with Rick Steves’ Florence and Tuscany in hand (opened to the map of Florence). I stop at the Santa Maria de Novella Cathedral (literally packed with people – a shock after several days in the open Italian countryside!) and then continue roaming. 
My lack of sleep is catching up with me, and while I intend to walk to a couple of specific destinations, I keep finding myself falling off the map (which I blame on Florence and not any navigational failing on my part). When I stop to ask a girl in a shop where exactly I am, she points to the air above the map, and directs me back to the centre of the city. I manage to find my way to the Uffizi Gallery, where I’ve booked a ticket for 3:15 p.m.
As Rick’s book advised, I reserved my ticket in advance, saving myself the hours-long lineup outside the gallery (instead waiting 20 minutes or so to get in). There are hundreds of people in the Uffizi and it is hot (I am guessing more than 30 degrees with all of the body heat). I wander through room after room of paintings, including those by Botticelli. Many of the paintings, not surprisingly, depict Madonna and child, or other religious themes. While they are stunning, I am tired and hot, and desperately need a nap. I find myself thinking, “You should be enjoying this more,” and then cut myself some slack. I’ve seen the highlights of the gallery, and now need to lie down.  
I head back to the hotel – the Soggiorno Anna Maria (recommended by Rick), and fall onto the bed. I open the window to let in fresh air, which amplifies the sound of a street musician playing what I guess to be a saxophone. He knows only one tune (or at least plays only one over and over). His audience is clearly the passersby and not those standing still (or lying down in my case). In spite of that, I manage to doze for an hour, at which point I grab a shower and head down the street to the Trattoria Katti (owned by the same people who run this hotel).
I sit at a table outside and enjoy the 20-degree evening. T-bone steak is listed under their specialties, so I decide to order it. It is listed in grams rather than the ounces that I’m used to, so I have no idea how much I’m ordering. The minimum order is 500 grams, so I go with that. As it turns out, that is a lot of meat (a pound, Judith tells me later). Separately, I also order roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables, figuring I’ll have a balanced meal. I am slightly embarrassed when the waitress delivers my pound of steak, a bowl of potatoes and a platter of grilled vegetables.
The couple at the table to my left is American – from Florida. We start to chat and soon the couple to the right of me joins in the conversation. Bob and Betty are from Calgary and have just arrived in Florence after having been in Venice. While they are over 80, they still travel lots and are planning to rent a car tomorrow (Bob says they can only rent cars in certain cities because others have an age limit, which he exceeds). Their travels have taken them on many adventures, and he recommends several destinations, including Galway, Irelend, where I must apparently have fish and chips (noted). About an hour before they actually leave, Betty says they should get back to their hotel. They then proceed to have a coffee and a limoncella and tell us more stories – about their trips to California to visit their daughter, about the vacations they took with Bob’s brother (who has recently died) and his wife. They finally make their way back to the hotel, as do the couple from Florida (whose names I didn’t get), who have an early morning tomorrow to get back to the US. I head back to the hotel and remember little else before falling fast asleep.
The next morning I am well rested and Florence appears much friendlier and easier to navigate than it did yesterday (it also helps that the sun is shining; yesterday it rained). After a continental breakfast at the hotel, I wander to the Ponte Vecchio and wander along the water, watching kayakers making their way under the bridge. 
I stop in a little art shop and buy a piece of mosaic art depicting the Tuscan countryside, and continue walking. The streets are filled with vendors, many of whom are selling the same things – leather goods, of course, and the usual souvenirs.
I have a date at the Accademia at 11 a.m. David awaits. Seventeen feet tall with features perfectly chiseled (literally), he is even more magnificent than I could have imagined. His muscles and tendons are so exquisitely crafted that I half expect to see his hand lift the rock within it, or his chest move in and out. Michelangelo was 26 when he started David, 29 when he finished the masterpiece made of Carrara marble (taken from the Garfagnana region of Italy where we are staying). It is difficult to imagine such a gift, such drive to create perfection. I stare for several minutes before moving on to look at the rest of the gallery (which holds only minimal interest when compared to David, the exceptions being Michelangelo’s other sculptures, several unfinished).
I return to David and circle the statue again, then stand still looking directly at his gaze. Visitors are not allowed to take photos, and even if you were, they would not come close to capturing his magic. On my way out, I consider buying a postcard, but they are flat. I return to take one last look at David so my last memory is of the real thing, not a dim reflection on paper.
I head back to Trattoria Katti for lunch (lasagna followed by panna cotta with strawberries and coffee) and then realize I am ready to head home to Pieve San Lorenzo. I catch the next train.
I return home to find Judith cooking supper – ravioli, sautéed tomatoes and other vegetables and a Greek salad. She has invited Francesca and Paolo for supper, even picking up ingredients from the store (thin layers of pre-made cake, cream, Nutella and strawberries) to make a cake to celebrate Paolo’s birthday, which is tomorrow. We enjoy a lovely dinner with Francesca and Paolo, and sing Happy Birthday to Paolo (in English) as we bring out the cake. 
We invite Paola (who owns the apartment and is next door) to come and join us for cake, and we all enjoy the delicious combination of coffee, hazelnut chocolate and strawberries as we talk about everything from the Romans to travel to American TV (ER, Dallas and General Hospital are among the shows that have been dubbed in Italian). Francesca promises to come to Nova Scotia to visit (and wants to see Prince Edward Island), and vows she will come in February (I strongly recommend against this and suggest spring, summer or fall are better alternatives. She says she will not come in the summer, so we will try to convince her of fall. We cannot in good conscience let her pay money to visit the Maritimes in February).
Our guests leave about 9, as we have an early morning; we will catch the 6 a.m. train. Francesca says she will be there at 5:45 to take us to the train station and we tell her no, we will walk (it is only five minutes). She agrees but says we must call her if we need a lift.
We are up at 5 a.m. to grab a quick breakfast (the usual bread, cheese and coffee) and are out the door at 5:45. Francesca is outside waiting for us. “You came!” we say, delighted, although feeling bad that she has gotten up so early on our account. “This is no problem,” she assures us. “I wake up early.” She takes us to the train station, where Judith buys us a round of coffee/cappuccino. Our train pulls up at 6 a.m. and we say goodbye to Francesca, our new friend, with the Italian embrace and kiss on both cheeks. We promise to stay in touch, and we will.
And with that, we are off. Grazie, Francesca. Grazie, Pieve San Lorenzo. Grazie, Italia. I will be back.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sad that our trip is ending. I like these people.
    I am wondering if you had any leftovers though.