Under The Tuscan Sun: From Rome To Florence

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Thursday, November 26, 2009

11.25.09/11.26.09             Under The Tuscan Sun: From Rome To Florence

Murray slept really badly last night, as he was up most of the night with a terrible stomach.  Today (11.25.09), we were going to check out of our hotel early, drop our luggage off at the Rome train station, and hit the forums and the Palatine right away before catching an afternoon train to Florence.  Instead, we spent the morning resting in our hotel room – then checked out at 11am and took a taxi straight to the train station.  Murray said he was still up for the trip today – but poor Murray!

The train ride to Florence took less than two hours (we opted for the high-speed train), and while on the train, we saw some spectacular Tuscan countryside!  Beautiful green, rolling, farmland hills – castles or palazzos on top of these hills around every other bend – and the bright fall sun still highlighting the autumn leaves on the trees.  Murray survived the train trip, and we made it to our hotel in Florence by mid-afternoon.  I tucked Murray into bed (with some Gatorade I miraculously found at a little store!) and spent the afternoon catching up on journaling and business from home (what's "home" anymore?!).  

We are staying at a little place called Hotel Crocini.  It is right on the Fiume Arno River, and near the US Consulate here in Florence.  Our room is large and has a lot of character – bright, marbled yellow walls, antique painted furniture, 15-foot-high ceilings, and large double windows overlooking a spacious but scraggly garden courtyard below.  (The hotel itself also has the world’s tiniest, and oldest, lift – it has a little drop-down red velvet seat inside, and you have to open two different sets of doors, and then close them behind you, before the lift will budge.  For some bizarre reason, every time I’m about to open up the inner doors to the lift to get on, I get the feeling that I will find a murdered body inside.  What’s up with that?!)

Early evening, I finally ventured forth into our new neighborhood to find myself some dinner and to bring something small and stomach-friendly back to the room for Murray.  I had a nice walk through several blocks of Florence, and found a decent-size grocery store, so loaded up on some supplies.  I also came across a Japanese restaurant that looked like good take-away fare for us both, so I ordered some miso soup for Murray and grilled teriyaki chicken with rice for me. 

As I was waiting for the food to be prepared and packaged up for me (and drinking the yummy tea they served me while I waited), one of the owners of the place, a little old Japanese woman, asked me – through a series of gestures, Japanese, and broken Italian – if I was having a baby, and whether it was a “bambino o bambina” (boy or girl).  In returned gestures and broken Italian, I told her that indeed I was having a baby, but I didn’t yet know its gender. 

Long story short, this little old woman had me stand up while she stooped down in front of me, and then – without warning – she actually began rubbing my belly (hello!) and pinching my hips and murmuring several words at Baby Boo, all for what seemed like several minutes.  When she finally stood upright again, she looked me in the eye and declared, with conviction, “BAMBINA!” (GIRL!).  I felt like I had been transported to Japan, and was part of some ancient Japanese ritual at the hands of a wise, old medicine woman – only I was in Italy, standing in front of the sushi counter at an upscale Japanese restaurant that was playing an Asian-Enya-like soundtrack softly over its speakers... (But, hey – maybe I’m having a little girl!!!)   

Today (11.26.09), Murray’s stomach (thankfully) seems to be doing a lot better, so it’s off to explore Florence we go!  After a decent breakfast at our hotel, we walked along the Fiume Arno River as the morning sun hung low over the water.  We stopped for a few minutes at one of the first bridges we came across, as I spotted several beavers (we think) swimming in the current and playing riverside.  (Either they were beavers or they were the largest rats I have ever seen.  I shudder to think…)

We kept up our walk toward Florence’s historic city center, finally making it to Ponte Vecchio – a beautiful and unique 14th-century bridge that is less like a bridge and more like a shopping plaza built over the water!  Out of all the bridges in Florence – and there are a lot! – Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge not to have been blown up by the Nazis in 1944.  It now serves as Florence’s “diamond district” – this bridge-slash-shopping-plaza has been lined with small jewelry stores for decades because a rich Medici family member who once lived nearby the bridge didn’t like the smell of the butcher shops that originally were located there (bad smell), so he ordered jewelry stores to replace all the butcher shops!  Money talks.

From Ponte Vecchio, we crossed the street to the Galleria degli Uffizi  (Uffizi Gallery), where we spent a few hours viewing the incredible art collection housed there.  The Uffizi is home to the wealthy Medici family’s private art collection, which was bequeathed to the city of Florence in 1743 by the last surviving member.  While I could write at length about the Uffizi and all it contains, I will refrain myself and say only that the collection is unbelievable!  Contained in more than 50 rooms housing over 1,555 masterpieces, we saw the gamut of art history from Greek sculptures to 18th-century Venetian paintings!

After the Uffizi, we walked to the nearby Piazza della Signoria.  This bustling, café-lined piazza is the hub of Florence’s political life and has been the site of Florentine’s most interesting history.  It was here that preacher/leader Savonarola set fire to the city’s art, books, paintings, musical instruments, etc., during his famous bonfire of the vanities in 1497.  A year later, Savonarola was burnt at the stake as a heretic at the very same spot!

Also located on Piazza della Signoria is the Palazzo Vecchio, the traditional seat of Florentine government.  Murray and I had a look through the palazzo, which contained some pretty marbled columns and arched doorways.  Also, standing outside the palazzo is a replica statute of David (the original actually stood there, outdoors, until 1873!), so we had fun taking a few photos with him!

As we left Piazza della Signoria and walked toward the Duomo, we found a perfect little café for lunch.  Murray’s stomach was feeling a lot better by then, so we both ordered the famous Tuscan ribollito (bread soup with fresh vegetables and beans), and I had a piadine (like a flat-bread wrap, with pesto and vegetables) while Murray had large, flat-noodled pasta with wild board sauce (he was even feeling well enough for a beer – woo-hooo!).

After lunch, when we reached the Piazza del Duomo and saw the Duomo (cathedral) itself, we were duly impressed.  The Duomo has a dramatic exterior – red-tiled dome, and pink, white, and green marbled façade – making it Florence’s most iconic landmark.  Begun in 1296 and taking nearly 150 years to complete, I was surprised to learn that it is the fourth-largest cathedral in the world!  In addition to the interior of the church, which was vast but also surprisingly sparse, we saw the campanile (bell tower) and the large detached baptistry (with absolutely stunning gold doors) of the Duomo.  (You may think we’re cathedral-ed out by this point, but seriously – these churches keep getting more and more interesting!  The exterior of the Duomo is something you must see to believe – it is almost “Alice In Wonderland”-like in its colors and carvings and niches and columns.)   

Leaving the Duomo, we were obliged by the country of Italy itself to buy some more gelato – and so we did.  We happily ate the gelato all the way to the Galleria dell’Accademia, where we finally got to view the REAL David!  (I was disappointed to find out that cameras are not allowed inside the gallery anymore – a change from my last visit here years ago.  So, unfortunately, no large David butt pictures to share…)  Michelangelo sculpted David from a single block of marble when he was only 29, and the statute is impressive in so many ways – but even just by sheer size alone!  It was fun to see it again.

After David, I was pretty tuckered out and needed a nap, so we walked back to our hotel and I grabbed a few zzzzzzs while Murray went online for a while (the free hotel Wi-Fi here actually has a decent connection!).  Around 7:30pm, we walked around our neighborhood and found a neat little trattoria for dinner.  Murray and I both started with different soups, and for mains I had pasta while Murray had (yuck) liver and onions.  I also had my first ever half-glass of alcohol (wine) since getting pregnant, but apparently, Baby Boo didn’t like it.  We quickly left the restaurant so I could get back to our hotel room and be sick in my “own” bathroom.  (I know you wanted to know that!)  Ugh.  I had a rough few hours there before finally collapsing into bed.  Murray’s better, so now I’m worse – that’s the way it always works, isn’t it?!  At least maybe I’m getting a quick bug like he had, so then I don’t have to blame it on the half-glass of wine and I can give that another try soon!
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