After breakfast, we rode the Circumvesuviana to Napoli and our high speed Fracciarossa to Firenze. Its new leather smell, speeds of 185 mph, and smooth ride are a testament to what the United States’ rail system SHOULD be. The fields are green, trees are beginning to bloom, and there is snow on the Apennines to the east of us.
A short walk brings us to our Hotel Balconywhere we once again have a private balcony. We are ideally located just behind Santa Maria Novella and looking from the front balcony, the Duomo is just down the street.
For our history lesson of the day, we journeyed to the American Military Cemetery where GG Granduncle Elmer Bunyard is buried. PFC. Bunyard was killed in April of 1945 as US troops began their march north to the Alps and the final defeat of Germany. We left our little US and MN flags before returning to Firenze.
I was discouraged from getting a Firenze Card because it is “low season,” so our destination is the Accademia for reservations to see David. Surprisingly easy and worth the four extra Euros. After a short wait, Gabrielle was able to see Italy’s sexiest ‘buns’ along with several other of Michelangelo’s marble pieces. The weather is beautiful so we strolled to a restaurant to dine beneath Santa Maria del Fiori, enjoyed our evening gelato fix, then returned to relax on our terrace. Beautiful evening.
A bit like the winged statues of antiquity, my niece is able to ‘spread her proverbial wings’ a bit and accomplished her first passengiata tonight. As expected, Italian men recognized a good opportunity and Luigi befriended this lush-haired beauty. It is a lesson in cultures as the streets are busy well into the evenings with young and old doing nothing more than walking streets, chatting, meeting new friends and being typical teens wherever they are or whatever language they speak. It certainly won’t be the first Italian encounter on my watch. I am traveling with a mature, intelligent and observant but sixteen-year-old. A worry-worthy combination.
Our full day in Firenze is a wet one so these novice umbrella-holders gingerly navigate the streets to the beautiful Uffizi Gallery and Basilica of Santa Croce with its tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machelvelli. The Ponte Vecchio and Porcellino Straw Market along the Arno create a shopping distraction. However, the straw market repetitively offers the same two items of scarves and leather.
We walked to the Duomo, incredibly beautiful Florentine architecture with its pink, green and white marble facade and soaring red dome. Building began in 1296 but it was left domeless for over a century. Florentines knew someone would eventually figure how to construct an appropriate dome. A young 24-year-old Filippo Brunelleschi designed the legendary bronze doors of the Baptistery and went on the complete the dome in 1436. His dome became the model for St. Peter’s in the Vatican and Washington’s Capitol building. Gabrielle challenged the crowds and 300+ steps for a cloudy view of Firenze’s red rooftops, bell towers, and narrow streets. Our Life360 locator app was more miss than hit so I called her on the cell phone to reconnect.
The San Lorenzo market offered a better selection of stuff Italian. Made a few purchases, including a bottle of vino for the room, before returning to dry out. Gabrielle wandered a bit, I relaxed, and we both ate a nice dinner including tiramisu at a restaurant overlooking Santa Maria Novella. No surprise it was Luigi for the evening’s distraction.
Thursday dawns cloudy but drier and we are enroute to Pisa for its leaning tower and an additional plate for my Buon Ricordo collection. Pisa is always a must escape from the crowds of Firenze. The square, with is duomo, baptistery and bell tower, is uniquely beautiful. And the tower is open for climbing once again since successful efforts to strengthen and straighten this Italian icon. I remember the nightmares I had after climbing to the top over forty years ago. Gravity seemed to pull me from the edge with each circular circuit made. At that time few restraints would have prevented one from toppling over the side. We decide to pass on the experience.
Amid light sprinkles and many visitors, we enjoy the beautiful interior of the Duomo with its spectacular carved ceilings. Of course one must snap the ubiquitous photo holding up the leaning tower.
Osteria del Violino offers a fine meal and a Buon Ricordo plate. Lacking their newest version, I am treated to one of their original plates – all the better. The meal consisted of seafood including mussels and snails, gnocchi, fish and Crème brûlée. Gabrielle is doing a good job of sampling the courses but she does pass on the little snails. With plate, we exited the restaurant into bright sun and balmy temps for our train back to Firenze.
Santa Maria Novella was the first great basilica built in Firenze beginning 1246. We walk past everyday so must step in, after a fee, and see this hulking basilica across from the train station. Like most Florentine churches, it is spectacular architecture on the outside and rather austere on the inside. But here, the 14th and 15th century frescoes and stained glass are beautifully preserved.
Two sad developments which I notice as we travel. Most churches are charging an entrance fee and have blocked off large sections, including the pews for sitting and enjoying the interiors. Secondly, military and police presence is everywhere. Does this make me feel more secure?
Gabrielle is becoming more comfortable and confident with each experience. Train stations, metros, public transportation are always a challenge and she is doing well handling them. No complaints on the walking and we have been doing at least 10 miles a day wandering the streets, museums and churches. The dining has been easy and no requests to stop by a McDonalds. The rain no one likes. All in all, she is doing very well.
I hope the rain is over as it does dampen the enjoyment of strolling the streets. Our last evening, much like true Italians, was spent in passengiata through the streets and piazzas listening to the sounds of the city. A wine there, a pizza here below the imposing facade of the Duomo. It’s a joyful evening of life among the Italians.