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Travel Journal: Italy, Day 7

Today we planned to wake up at 6:30am and take the 8am train to Florence. But, somehow we screwed up the alarm clock and didn't wake up until nearly 8. Luckily, there was another train at 9:13am, so we hustled to the station.

It was a nice, uneventful ride and we were in Firenze by about 10:30am. When we got off the train, I was not prepared for the hustle and bustle of the city. The train station was understandably busy, but man - so is every other street in town! We fought our way through the sidewalks and toward the Duomo, our first stop. We took a few photos of the exterior, which was stunning, and then headed inside.

It's a vast church, but the interior is far less decorative than the marble mosaic exterior. Once Jeremy realized that we could climb to the top, he was all over it. 400+ stairs later, there we were at the peak of the Duomo, looking out over the city and surrounding countryside. Both are stunning.

We headed back down the stairs and over to Santa Croce, where Galileo, Michelangelo, and Dante (along with many others) are buried. Santa Croce is full of amazing art and chapels, plus a cloister which was a nice, quiet, and relaxing green space to catch a breath in before heading back to the jostle of the city.

Everywhere, there were vendors selling mostly-shitty souvenirs and crap with famous art on it (mousepads, coffee mugs, ugh). There was also a large leather market near another piazza (San Leonardo, I think?), but it reminded me too much of Times Square. The one thing I really wanted to get was one of the pashmina-style scarves that I see a lot of women around here wearing. They're cute, and I'm a scarfy gal. In other, more disturbing news, many women (young ones) around here wear mullets. Sort of retro-'80s punk mullets, but mullets nonetheless. I'm serious.

Okay, so after Santa Croce, Jeremy wanted to see David. You know, the big naked marble one. So we headed to the Accademia and paid our €6.50 to see him, along with a few other pieces of art. See how easily I dismiss classics as "other pieces of art"...what trash I am! Seriously, not to sound like a troglodyte, but there's really only so much Italian religious art one can handle. After a while, it all starts to look the same and you long for some modern art, or another style, to break the monotony. One other thing, now that I'm fully off on a tangent - I am not comfortable with going into churches as a tourist. It just feels strange to enter someone's sacred space and gawk. Who knows, it might be the fact that I was raised in the Catholic Church and I'm going into Catholic Churches that I feel strange, but I'm pretty sure I would feel the same way about any religious space. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful to admire the craftsmanship of the structures, and marvel at the art and sculpture, but it's weird on some level.

I've also noticed that, while inside churches, I have this swell of emotion, sometimes being on the verge of tears. Especially when I see votives lit - little flickering evidence of people's prayers. I find it touching. There is also something, I think, in the grandness of the place - it's amazing to see the artful way in which people want to show love for their God. I was thinking about that while in these churches - the Catholic (well, Christian, really) tendency toward sweeping superstructures with imposing artwork, versus the Buddhist tendency toward more open, natural or nature-integrating space, and the current general Christian trend toward stark, simple and modern interiors. This is all anecdotal, but I think it's fairly accurate and I was thinking that in the same way that one's perception of physical space may affect their level of expectation or desire in portion size, living space, or retail space - perhaps the principles of one's religion can be interpreted by looking at its worship spaces. Something to think about.

So, where was I? Oh yes, David. He's very glorious, and (as everyone I have ever know has also said), he's bigger than I thought. There is some scaffolding around his right side - apparently they're doing all sorts of testing and restoration to make sure he's around for many years to come. Which I think is sort of funny because eventually everything must fall apart - that's its nature. But, I guess you can't blame them for trying to delay the inevitable.

After seeing the big D and skimming over the rest of the museum, we headed toward the Uffizi - where it seems every piece of "important" Italian art lives. We were hungry and cranky by this point, so we settled for lunch in front of the gallery, rather than going into the gallery itself.

We lunched in front of the fake David - the outdoor stand-in - and tried to figure out what else we could fit in before getting back on the train to Lucca. I wanted to see the Ponte Vecchio and the Boboli Gardens, so we walked about a block over to the river. Jeremy shot some video of scooters, and we watched a few young kids practicing rowing - it looked like crew.

We took some photos of the Ponte Vecchio - the bottom is mostly jewelry shops and the top was a private passage that the Medici family used to get from the Palazzo Pitti to the Palazzo Vecchio unseen. The bridge is from the 1300s, which completely blows my mind. When I was in DC last April, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the history of the place, but now that seems like nothing. I mean, you'll walk past someone's apartment building and it will say 1190 on it. It's nuts.

We crossed the bridge over to Palazzo Pitti - which is in front of the Boboli Gardens. By this time, it was nearly 6pm and the gardens closed in a half-hour, so we decided to cross back and try to come to Florence again. We went toward the train station through an antique district and across the Ponte Santa Trinita to see the other side of the Ponte Vecchio. Since there was a train at 6:35pm, we made a beeline for the station.

Jeremy thought I should go to this shoe store called Bata, but my dogs were barking and I probably shouldn't be buying fancy new shoes now that I'm on Uncle Sam's dime until I get a job. Ugh! Not thinking about that...

We made it to the train and ended up next to three hilarious Irish ladies. They didn't realize that we spoke English at first, and they were gossiping about their friend in the next car. Once they realized I knew English and was eavesdropping, they got really embarrassed. Which I thought was funny because I was the one eavesdropping like a creep!

We chatted with them for a while, and then realized that we had been sitting still at the Firence Rifredi stop (the first stop outside of the city center) for far too long. People started getting restless, and soon they opened the train doors and most people spilled out onto the platform.

It was completely unclear what was going on - the only thing that was clear was that the train wasn't going anywhere soon. We called Doris to see if she had heard of an accident or anything. She had no idea, but told us to find an Italian she could talk to. We found a guy kind enough to indulge us, and he gave Doris the scoop in Italian. Turns out there were protesters ahead on the tracks! It's still unclear what they were protesting for or against, so far the only result of their actions appears to be pissing off some tourists and commuters.

Today's food was fairly unremarkable, but is as follows:
Breakfast: Macchiato at the train station.

Lunch: Caprese sandwich as soon as we got to Florence, which we ate in front of the Duomo. Total, utter crap and didn't hold a candle to the Turandot. I need one more sandwich from there before we leave this town.

Snack: Jeremy needed a bathroom break, but the sign said, "Toilets for clients only." He insisted I buy something. Okay, so I bought a can of iced tea. The peach iced tea that we like. Well, welcome to Florence...because we were somewhat near to some kind of tourist thing, the iced tea was €3! That's like damn near $5. What's funny is that when we were in L'Accademia there was a sign that said, "No Photos" and Jeremy was totally trying to figure out how he could sneak a photo. And yet, in some random cafe, he can't bring himself to sneak into the bathroom. Sheesh!

Lunch Part II: Since the first lunch was actually breakfast, we ate at a cafe in front of the Uffizi. I had a margherita pizza (I really must break out of this tomato/mozzarella rut I'm in), which again was pretty much crap. My insalata mista was a disappointment, too. Overall, not impressed by Florence food. I know they have good restaurants, but their faster or lower-cost options are shite.

After lunch we thought we'd try our luck at finding more gelato soia. We ended up finding sorbet instead, which J was fine with. I had some tiramisu gelato, which was good, but afterward I wished I had gotten the lower-calorie lemon sorbetto. Oh, and the cones...€4. Each. (They're less than €2 in Lucca!)

Dinner: Pickins in Lucca were slim after we got home so late from the train protest fiasco. But, Jeremy ran down to the paninotecca for some sandwiches. I'm ashamed to say I had him bring me the caprese. I basically ate the same thing for three meals today, and none of them were very good. Bah!

Posted October 2, 2003 11:06 PM | On This Day: 2002