Our Tale Of Four Cities: Florence
The next morning we took off for Firenze, by way of rail hub, Bologna. Bologna also happens to be the historical home of Craig’s fraternity (Kappa Sigma)… and is renowned for their food. The Italians jokingly refer to them as something like “the fat people of Italy” because Bolognese style food is so good. This in mind, we took a three hour stop in Bologna, checked our bags at the terminal (cool service, by the way, if you want to hop off a train and explore a town without towing 30 pounds of luggage on our back) and made our way into town. We found a nice little café off the main drag (and what a pretty cool drag it was… colonnades and covered walkways enable people to walk by historic buildings and shops) and Katie enjoyed a delicious pizza while Craig stuffed down a Cutlet Alla Bolognese. Lightly breaded veal with a slice of prosciutto topped with a wonderful sauce and a cherry tomato, sided by some lightly pan-fried potato slices.
After our meal it was time to, well, burn off that meal and we continued into town to the Torre Degli Asinelli. The tower was the tallest of Bologna’s renaissance towers (uh, towering over it’s leaning neighbor, the Torre Garrisendi). And as with Saint Marks Basilica, it was also covered with some scaffolding for maintenance… at least it’s lower 30 feet or so. It was still open, so we forked over a few euros and spent the next 15-20 minutes tromping up an ancient and worn wooden staircase. The Tower has 496 steps, with landings every 100 feet or so, leading one to believe one was close to the top when, well, they weren’t. It was harrowing climb in a humid tower, but lead to a breath-taking view of the city.
We then made our way back to the train station to continue “The Day of 1,000 Steps” at our next stop, Florence.
We arrived in Florence in the mid-afternoon, got our room at a Best Western (they actually buy luxury hotels there, not the motels we are accustomed to here)… the breakfast patio overlooks the stunning Il Duomo (the dome) – the dome that signaled the launch of the renaissance.
Speaking of Il Duomo, we made tracks for the second half of our stair climbing doubleheader and were off. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore was, as the Torre Degli Asinelli and Saint Marks, partially under scaffolding construction. Fortunately the section was limited to just a wing off to the side near the back. The Dome climb was much easier than the Torre. It was still hot and humid, but the Duomo has two domes, exterior and interior, so the climb is in the space between them. At least you can keep on climbing knowing that if you slip you won’t be plummeting to your death. As with the TdG, the view from the top was simply amazing. More of the view of a city of red terracotta tiled roofs, now with the hills of Tuscany in the background, and the shadow of the Duomo creeping slowly across the city as the Sun set.
Returning back to the street level, we meandered a bit exploring the area surrounding the Duomo. We finally decided to reward our climbing efforts with some well-deserved dinner. Pizza time! We opted for a pizza café (Café Sputtino!) partially obscured with the tents of the street market, and this time hit a home run. We both got some staggeringly good pizza. Not by the slice, but the entire pie. Italian pizzas as basically the size of a medium from your local pizza joint, with a thin crust… only all components of the pizza just seem to be significantly better than our versions.
Katie was down for the count shortly after dinner, but gave Craig the go ahead to wander the streets at night for a little bit. Mp3 player in tow, I popped on some really mellow ambient music and explored the same streets we had earlier in the evening, only now after dark. Was pretty cool to see the smattering of tourists and locals all gather by the steps of the Duomo, looking towards the Baptistry. Also cool just to immerse myself in the city. While Paris, and later Rome, were both cities with lots of amazing historical structures, Venice and Florence were different. The immersion was pretty close to 100%. You could wander around for 45 minutes and were still surrounded by centuries old buildings.
We followed up the “Day of 1,000 Steps” with the “Day of 1,000 Museums” (well, 3… but it felt like 1,000!) After basking in the glow of the rising Tuscan Sun with an astounding view of the Duomo as we drank our coffee and enjoyed assorted breakfast meats, we were off to the Academia, famed for amongst other things, Michelangelo’s David. The statue was everything it’s made out to be. Perhaps even cooler were the unfinished blocks of Michelangelo’s work… bodies and men still partially developed, as if attempting to escape from their entombment in marble.
There were some other sculptures and pieces of art, but a theme began to develop… one that continued to carry on…
After stopping for, guess what? More pizza! We moved on to our appointment at the Uffizi Gallery. There we saw more astounding works from Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Botticeli. The renaissance artists, not to be confused with the anthropomorphic crime fighting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
(and here Craig is about to type grave blasphemies which might upset art history majors.)
The theme continued from the Academia… basically 90% of the content could be summed up in three subjects: Adoration of the Child, Madonna and Child, and Italian Nobles. While Versailles bludgeoned you over the head with opulence, the renaissance museums bludgeoned you over the head with the same subject matter over and again. It got kind of tiresome after a while. The University of Arizona required students to complete two years of a foreign language… I couldn’t help but wonder if admission to the art school or patronage with the Medicis required the artist to do their take on the Adoration.
(blasphemies temporarily concluded)
At least part of the museum was broken up with busts of Roman emperors. And the “SSDBRP” (like SSDD, only “Same Subject, Different Brilliant Renaissance Painter”) of the subject matter further benefited artists daring to be different, such as Boticelli’s “Birth of Venus” that much more impressive.
We were in luck in that the museum had a special temporary Caravaggio exhibit. His bold works, with darker themes and some bold colors managed to impress an “arted-out” Craig.
We continued on, Katie’s “art fix” temporarily sated, it was time for Craig’s “geek fix” and we moseyed next door to the Museo Galileo and saw ancient tools of the chemistry, astronomy, and medical sciences. And lots of maps and globes, and Craig does so love maps and globes. (I do!) The absolute coolest thing in the place was the Armillary Sphere. It’s a fantastic, WORKING device which showed the Universe as viewed in those times… with the Earth at it’s center, the Moon, Sun, and various planets and heavenly bodies all on their own rings. The entire thing could be cranked on a handle to move the pieces, showing where things would be on any given date. Sat out in the Medici Family courtyard for decades… the fact it survived is pretty amazing as well. And the reason Craig knows all this is a museum employee (perhaps happy to see traffic wander in not asking directions to the more famous/popular Uffizi) took a few moments of his day to approach the American tourist gawking at it to explain it’s significance, layout, use, and history. Tante grazie, Signore!
Before leaving for Italy, a friend of Craig’s came to him with a mandate. “When you are in Florence, you MUST have a Tuscan T-bone. This is not debatable.” We found a restaurant, Trattoria al Trebbio, known for their meat quality… Katie got something something I’m sure she enjoyed, we got a liter of house wine, and Craig pulled the trigger on the “you MUST get this” Tuscan T-Bone.
In the parlance of our times (well, at least 2003 or so), I’d say it was “all that and a bag of chips”… only a bag of chips would have been completely unnecessary with this steak. It was so “all that” it didn’t need chips. The chef put some spicing on it, but very little. It didn’t need them. Best. Steak. Ever. Craig’s wrath was swift, the carnage terrible. Craig, down to the molecular level, removed every scrap of meat possible from the bone. Heaven. I actually seriously considered asking the waiter for the name of the chef who prepared my steak. He would say, “Roberto”, to which I was going to respond…”No signore. Roberto il Magnifico!”
After a nice night’s rest (or foodcoma), we woke up the next morning and took a stroll to the famous Ponte Vecchio – the bridge with centuries old jewelers shops on either sides. It was the only bridge in town that the retreating Nazi’s did not blow up 65 years ago. We explored “the other side of the tracks” as well as the local market… but our time was limited. We had other plans. Grabbing a quick bite to eat (Craig finally sampled Chicken Carbonara… which has been one of his Lean Cuisine frozen lunch staples) we hopped on our tour bus and were off to the hills of Tuscany for a wine tasting.
We stopped at a local town, Santa Brigida for a quick look around before continuing to Castello Del Trebbio. The castle used to be owned by the Pazzi family… Pazzi means “Crazy” in Italian, but its only coincidence. The family, upset with playing second fiddle to the powerful Medici family, finally got Papal support and in the castle hatched plans to remove their adversaries. They were going to assassinate Lorenzo and his brother. Trouble was, the Medicis were paranoid… even built their own covered second floor walkways to avoid brushing elbows with the unwashed masses. So where to get them? Why not Sunday mass? On Easter Sunday. They tried, injured Lorenzo and succeeded in killing his brother. Lorenzo’s wrath was terrible and they killed everyone associated with the family. In fact, the Pazzi seal at the Castello Del Trebbio (now under Medici management) was the only Pazzi crest spared… and only because it was designed by Donatello, a Medici family friend.
Now they make wine there.
After a tour of some of the rooms of the castle we headed to the winery portion. We got to see the massive barrels of wine in progress. The family is sentimental and kept a bottle of every batch of wine they had made… dating back to the 1960s. They had hundreds upon hundreds of bottles neatly stacked in the dusty cellar. Temptation averted, we continued to a banquet hall where we were treated to a wine and Chianti tasting with some cheese as well as bruschetta topped with olive and tomato pastes, all to help us sample their EEEEEVO (extra x5 virgin olive oil) along with the wine. Incidentally, thanks to the wonders of capitalism and big boxes, you can find the very same Chianti we tried (Castello del Trebbio) Stateside, at a reasonable price, courtesy of Total Wine.
Upon returning to Florence we grabbed some (sadly mediocre) pizza and some (very good and not at all mediocre) gelato before going back to our hotel and packing up for tomorrow’s trip to: