Saturday, March 1, 2014


 During our travels in Tuscany, a certain sign kept popping up - Firenze. I kept thinking of the centaur teacher from Harry Potter, but it turns out, the Italian word for the city of Florence is Firenze. It made me think: how many other places do I think have one name, but are really called another?

Anyhow, my worldly ignorance aside, the day we spent in Florence was...interesting. I confess: Florence wasn't my favorite place. I have a fondness now for it in retrospect, but the time that we had there was super rushed, from the moment we got there until we left 5 or 6 hours later.

One distinct memory was a conversation that was had with some of our fellow travelers. One of us had mentioned that in her 20's and 30's, our mom sported a giant blond beehive hairdo. My older sisters claimed it was what allowed them to find her in the store; just look for the big white hair. On of the members of our group, Ed, immediately started calling her Grandma Beehive. He wanted to try and recreate the hairdo, which my mom laughed at but did not indulge. Ed had an easy personality; he was eager to tease my mom, something that was fun to watch. It made me wonder what a brother would have felt like, and how a boy added to our girl family would have changed the dynamic and my mom. Interesting thought. This conversation happened as we walked through the Florence train station, and the mall-like shopping center attached to it.

Santa Maria Novella

One of our first stops was a chapel. It was called Santa Maria Novella. From there, we walked into the center of Florence. There we stopped in front of a palace called the Borgo degli Albizzi - it was a "small apartment" built by the Medici family for the rival Albizzi family that they had earlier exiled. It was a beautiful building. From there, we walked to the Florence Duomo - one of the most beautiful cathedral complexes in the world. It was Sunday, which was not in our favor, because this meant we couldn't tour the church. (It was hugely disappointing to not be able to see Brunelleschi's Dome. An article about the Dome in the National Geographic last month made me want to sob. I was right there, in front of the church that housed this wondrous architectural feat, and I couldnt' see it. Or climb it. Or stare in awe up at it. I can't think too much about it or I get a little sick.) Amy and I would return during our free time to climb the 400 stairs of the bell tower (more on this later) but missing seeing the insides of the Orvieto, Siena, and Florence Duomos is one of my deepest regrets from the trip.

We walked around the complex, then hurried over to the Academia. Our time here was too short - we were able to see the David which was an experience I will never forget. Prior to going to the Academia, I knew very little of what I would be seeing. Almost more moving than the David (which is saying quite a lot) are the 4 statues by Michelangelo called The Prisoners. They are four magnificent sculptures emerging from marble; they look unfinished, until you look at them, and realize they are perfect just as they are. My favorite were the Slave and Atlas. I shed a few tears standing in front of them; it would be hard not to. And of course, the David is perfection; from every angle, he is alive and real. I was most moved by the veins you can see running down his arms; how does one sculpt veins from marble?  I remember spending a lot of time looking at his feet; his second toe is longer than his big toe. I so wish we could have toured the rest of the Academia.

We walked back to the place we would meet after our free time (a church called San Lorenzo - again, didn't go inside, sigh.) From here, everyone scattered. Most of the group was headed to a leather market a few blocks up from the Arno river.

Amy and I had other plans. After consuming a  delicious cheese and tomato pizza from a market near San Lorenzo, we headed to Giotto's Campanile, a free-standing bell tower next to the Duomo. We climbed all the way to the top to get the best view of Florence. The stairs are very steep and narrow; we were often stepping around other people to attain the top of another set of stairs so that they could go down the other way. It was a relief each time we reached a new level. Each time we were a little higher, and a little more out of breath.

The rooftop terrace was one of my favorite. The river was in the distance, and Santa Croce, and even the Uffizi Gallery (within a few hours we would walk PAST the Uffizi; it was painful to be so close to it and have no time to tour it. One more reason that I have to get back to Italy in the future.) From our privileged viewepoint, we watched a church procession coming down one of the tiny side streets towards the cathedral. It had multiple priests and nuns and incense. I wonder if they were carrying a coffin, but I can't prove it. It was fascinating to watch it work its way slowly down the streets. Amy and I enjoyed the top for about 15 minutes, taking pictures and selfies and videos and then made the long trek down.

I loved this little gargoyle

It's amazing how fast two hours can pass. After the bell tower, we had just enough time to walk down to the river, cross the bridge of Ponte Santa Trinita (and photograph all four of the seasons statues). We rushed to cross Ponte Vecchio, walking down the tiny side streets that parallel the river; they were crowded with people and delivery trucks and merchants. I took a few pictures on the bridge, but we were terribly rushed and needed every moment to rush back to San Lorenzo for our meeting place. I had a strange encounter with a street vendor while hurrying; those Italians are smooth talkers -  he told me I had dropped something and pointed to where I had just been. I inspected the pavement only to have him tell me "You dropped my heart," or some similar type of pick up line. I told him I didn't have the time for him and hurried on.

Santa Trinita from Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio from Santa Trinita

Amy on the side streets near Ponte Vecchio

On Ponte Vecchio

Amy and I made it to San Lorenzo. A nun walked where we were sitting on the stairs and blessed Amy; it was a hurried, frazzled afternoon and we were feeling the distress from missing so many wonderful places and feeling frustrated. Our group slowly filtered in and we hurried on, back past the duomo complex and through the streets, past Uffizi (sob!) and Santa Croce (which was desinged by a jew; there is a motif at the top of the church that could arguably be called a jewish star if you sat down to think about it.) After a jaunt next to the Arno, we met up with our bus and hurried out of the city.

Rape of the Sabines statue. So beautiful!

Perseus holding the head of Medusa

Santa Croce. Can you see the Star of David?

I couldn't say why I didn't love Florence. I feel like I need to justify it somehow - but I don't have the words. It just felt....over the top. For centuries, each of the cities in the Tuscan region were vying for political power. This power was (and is) evinced by the buildings they constructed to show their might. Florence (with their Medici financial backers) pulled out all the stops in their quest to dominate. I appreciate and long to one day visit those places again, and savor them.

The rest of our day was spent at a private winery and olive orchard owned by the Corsini family. We had a tour of the olive and grape orchards (which were stunning) and then an inside tour of where they make their wine and olive oils. It was a beautiful place. That night we ate dinner in their dining room inside the winery; it was served to us by some of the Corsini family, of whom the father is considered a prince. Fancy, fancy. The others on our tour group loved us, since they got to drink the wine samples that were at each of our places. I smelled the different wines - I'm sure they tasted wonderful.

The group. Photo courtesy of Bryan Wooley.

The gardens inside the winery complex.

Dinner. Photo courtesy of Bryan Wooley.

That night was our last in our little town of Montecatini. Since Amy and I could never go to bed on time, we sat on the floor next to our bathroom (the only spot in the room where the wifi worked - and we texted with our family and friends. We stayed up late into the night, listening to the storm outside and talking.


Amy Sorensen said...

It's so my heart, I loved Florence. But then I remember how frustrated I was and I'm not sure. I think I have the untold capacity for loving Florence if the situation hadn't have been so sucky. LOVE seeing your pictures!