We got up early to head to the Uffizi. I've downloaded Rick Steves walking tour of a the museum onto my iPad, so we will see how well that works out. Mom and I both brought our iPods, but they won't charge here for some reason. We have reservations at 8:15 AM, which I called Italy on Skype to make. What it translates into is paying extra to avoid standing in line. Money spent wisely, right?
We still stand in line.
After picking up the tickets, we head into Palazzo Vecchio for a quick bite to eat. A croissant and coffee, sanding up at the bar. This is very Italian. I've been marveling this whole trip about how they pop into little patisseries to grab a cup of coffee on the go -- but they don't get it to go like we do at Starbucks. They saddle up to the counter and lean, downing tiny cups of pure caffeine in 2.5 seconds. Then they're off, as my best friend would say -- like a herd of turtles. Nobody moves fas around here. It's quite a contradiction.
Back at the museum, we plug Rick in and climb to the top level of the museum. Poor mom... she has really grown to loathe stairs and I think this is the fourth floor. The art is amazing. The tour walks you from pre through post Renaissance, demonstrating with the works the difference in dimension that was achieved in that timespan. Michelangelo, da Vinci, Durer, Botticelli, Raphael, Titian... room upon room of stunning brush stroke and evolving realism by all the masters. I am so crushed to find the Tribuna, the octagonal room at the Uffizi that is like a work of art itself, being restored. That means we miss seeing the Venus 'de Medici. Not that I need a reason to come back... though this is as good as any.
Afterward, we pop into a few shops. Let me be more concise. Mom points to something in a window. I try and be patient. Following her in while bluntly explaining that I am done shopping and she has five minutes. It typically ends with me helping her pick a color. And getting cranky. I am in Florence. Florence. Cultural mecca of the world. Fine, maybe it is the shopping mecca, too, but the David is naked, right? Who needs clothes to look good?
My next stop is Santa Croce Church. The Piazza of the same name is teeming with stalls of vendors hawking their wares, but I am somehow able to get mom inside. This place is my undoing. Interned here are Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli and Galileo (though not all of him... the Science Museum has his finger, apparently)... so many great minds. I can't explain why, but being under the same roof as these men is very awe inspiring and a bit overwhelming. You a lifetime learning about these men, how they influenced and shaped the world, and here they are. I remember visiting Mahatma Gandhi's tomb in India, Paul Revere's in Boston, Benjamin Franklin's in Philly, Lincoln's memorial in DC -- all great men whose impact on history is tangible -- but the reaction was just different. Maybe it was easier to process one at a time. The awesomeness of all these men under one roof was really something. I wish I could do the experience justice. I think mom believes I've lost it.
We take up our hostess Gaia's suggestion about a place for lunch between Piazza San Lorenzo and Piazza Mercato Centrale, called Tratorria Mario. We are again seated at a table for four with what appears to be a man and his daughter, or a man and his inappropriately aged girlfriend. He's Florentine, and very nice to help us navigate the menu. We order Ribollita, a traditional soup made of leftover vegetables and stale bread. It is remarkable. Next, it's Farouz uostrele or nostrele lardelleta al forgo, which is SOME BIRD with slices of crispy lard and olives. It is like crack, only slightly outdone by the Filetto Di Nizuto or Uzuto... The beef filet we also order. It's like filet mignon on yum steroids. My mouth is making promises my legs can't keep and my ass will pay for in size. I need to work out.
Sure, walking 10 hours a day is a decent workout. And carrying 500 pounds of freaking luggage also helps. I miss my routine a little. That's all I'm saying.
So let's have gelato, shall we? Mom is dying to go to Piazza San Marco, which is near a place she's earmarked as a must visit for gelato. I won't go into detail, but it is by far the worst gelato we've had. The piazza is also a bit of a disappointment... reminds me of Campo de Fiore in Rome. Not a lot there. Maybe wrong time of day, or as Mom admits, it could be the wrong city. We will try again in Venice.
On the way back home, Mom spots a large leather duffel bag in a shop window. We end up going in and having a lovely conversation with the lady who owns the shop and stitches a lot of the wares there herself. It's nice to have a break from the guys on the street telling you how they have the best, most high quality leather. Special price for you, Madame. She explains how leather "works" in Florence, that anybody can stamp anything. They have stopped using the traditional "I Medici" stamp because so many fakes have this on it. When the price is low in the market for something stamped with that, but made in China, it becomes hard to compete. Her shop has its own stamp now. She also shows us how a bag changes over time. The ones on the shelf are stiff. I would never have bought one, but the one she shows us that she's been using for two months is more broken in, and the one that is six years old is gorgeous she debs her nail across the leather, which makes me gasp, then rubs it out with water. She says some use milk, or just oil from your hands, it was really cool. And the answer is yes. Neither of us leave without something. Or things.
We drop stuff off at the apartment and head back out toward Boboli Gardens, only to find the closed. Boo. A little further is Piazza Michelangelo. Mom is tired, and walking slowly as we follow the path of the Arno River. It's a complete role reversal as she asks me repeatedly, "Are we there yet?"
No... and don't you make me pull this car over.
A car is what she wishes we had as we cross through the medieval city walls towed the hill where the bronze replica of the David lives with what is supposed to be the most amazing view of Florence. We get to the base of stairs that literally lead up s far as you can see. I take my comments about the Cinque Terre back... THIS is the stairway to heaven. I look back and mom is standing there, hands on her hips, looking like she wants to be sick. I walks back and tell her it's getting dark. I want to get a panoramic shot before it gets too dark. She's not happy. Not about me, mind you, about the stairs. I suggest a cab. She says she will just take her time as I start my ascent.
When I get to the second set of stairs... the ones you can't even see from where we began, I figure mom is going to kill me either way -- whether she has to climb, or wait -- so I keep going. The view from the top is so spectacular. When I arrive, the sun has just set casting pink and purple hues I to the sky, staining the clouds in their glorious pastels. You can literally see everything from here: the outline of the ancient walls we've just passed through, the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno winding under and then through the city, the Duomo, rising spectacularly in the middle of it all. It is amazing. I snap a few pictures as quickly as I can, then run back to collect mom from the bottom of the hill. To my surprise, she's made it to the top. Tough girl. She can't breathe and she's hurt her knee, but where she is, she can't see what I've seen. I coax her over, and though still mad, tired and in a bit of pain, she softens.
After a glass of wine bought from a street vendor and some lovely music, we hail a cab and head back to Piazza Santo Spirito. We have dinner at the same place we did last night. Mom orders the Riboletta, which is just as good as this afternoon and with lots of spinach, and I got the X-rated mac 'n cheese. Decidedly unoriginal. I don't care -- it was that damn good.
Gnocchi Part 2 is not disappointing.