When I saw how cheap it was to fly to Italy from a nearby airport, I started making plans. I thought Venice would be our destination, but after some research and talking to people (like Jasmine!) we decided to go to Florence. I was a little concerned that a four day weekend wouldn’t be enough time to do it justice, but Dick and I agreed to realistic expectations and a relatively firm itinerary.
We had to fly into Pisa and it was an evening flight, so we decided to stay overnight, see the Leaning Tower and then take the train to Florence. We stayed in a basic hotel in the heart of the city. The bed felt like a board and our window faced a noisy alley, but we managed to get a some sleep.
There was a steady rain all morning so our visit to Pisa was relatively short. After seeing the Tower and the Duomo from the outside, we got our bags and took a long walk down the Corpo Italia (Walking Street) to the train station.
Florence was also rainy, but we walked to our hotel without getting too wet. After we checked in, we found pizza at a little cafe. Our first agenda item was a reserved entry to The Accademia. We’ve read about Michelangelo’s David and seen pictures, of course, but it certainly is more impressive up close. Wow. The collection of sculpture by Lorenzo Bartolini was also quite impressive. I’m not a big fan of early Renaissance paintings and I’d have to say I was maxed out after seeing the relatively small collection there.
I insisted we get gelato to keep us going until dinner and after waking around a bit, we found a not so inexpensive gellateri. So we split a cup full. 😊 The restaurant that I had pinned for dinner didn’t seem so appealing when we looked at the menu. We searched Google and Trip Advisor for another choice close to our hotel. The pick turned out okay. Our waiter was great, the wine was excellent and my gnocchi was delicious. Dick had boar, a Tuscan specialty. The waiter talked us into a limoncello after dessert and that was probably a little too much alcohol for us light weights!
There was a steady rain all day on Saturday and then some strong thunderstorms that night. More heavy storms rolled through on Sunday. Our room overlooked the Arno and we could see the water rise and run faster. By Sunday evening, it was a roaring torrent that we could hear from our bed. This month is the 50th anniversary of the great flood in Florence and I wondered if residents get nervous every time the river rises.
The Uffizi gallery was free on Sunday and even though we got there at 8:15, we had to wait about 40 min. to get in. The building and the views are amazing. I liked the sculpture, but most of the art is early 15th century. Meh. The Michelangelo and “Leonardo” billing are kind of a tease. There is one of each. The Leonardo exhibit was moved to another floor, which we didn’t figure out until we asked. The maps and signs weren’t updated!
Since there was no rain and a bit of sun, we decided to head to the Piazzale Michelangelo to see the city views. We made it in time to get some nice pics with just a little rain. Our next stop was the Palazzo Pitti, which turned out to be a little ambitious as we heard the thunder getting closer. We also chose a steep uphill route to get there. We made it through the Boboli gardens and within sight of the palace when the downpour came. We managed to get some shelter with a bunch of other people on some covered steps.
When the rain eased up, we took a long detour back around to the front of the palace. Food and drink were needed at this point. We had both heard about the sitting fees in Italy, but that advice went unheeded and we got taken for extra € at the place where we stopped for lunch. Dang. When we walked to the Duomo, we were almost suckered by a guy from Senegal (or so he said). The way this guy engaged us and then went into his beg for money left me with an unsettled feeling for awhile. We were a little more aware after this.
The Duomo is the only church I’ve seen that is more beautiful on the outside than the inside. Santa Maria Novella is incredible and there was much more there than we expected to see. The frescos, especially the ones in the chapel, are breathtaking.
We had some time for shopping in the afternoon. There must be hundreds of leather shops and market stalls in this city. I guess the prices on the items are there just to make you feel like you’re getting a deal when you negotiate down to a reasonable range. Almost every shop we went in started with 30% off. Dick tried on several jackets and when he indicated interest and a price limit, the fun began. We encountered a really nice, knowledgeable and skillful saleswoman. She was also less pushy than some other people we talked to. It was a deal in the end and I think D looks great in his new made in Italy jacket! Sunday night’s dinner was at a small restaurant on the south side of the river. The reviews were accurate and we had another great meal. Dick said his veal dish was one of the best meals he’s ever had. We split another bottle of Chianti, but no limoncello this time.
Monday was dry — yay! Palazzo Vecchio was our first destination. Many museums are closed on Monday so we arranged our itinerary accordingly. We saw the movie “Inferno” last week and part of it is set at the Palazzo Vecchio. I don’t know if that enhanced our visit or distracted from it! We saw the hidden door in the studio opened by a staff member while we were there; that was fun. The Dante death mask exhibit is completely different than shown in the movie. The Great Hall is, of course, much more impressive in person. We did the archeology tour and that turned out to be a pretty disappointing. The audio tour is via an app and guess what — wifi doesn’t work so great underground! If you don’t have info or context, it just looks like layers of rock down there. We did some more browsing through shops, this time on the south side, in the afternoon. We found delicious, moderately priced gelato near one of the bridges. Yum!
We took the train back to Pisa, checked into a shabby hotel and then had a nice dinner at a family restaurant. The owner waited on us and gave us great service. It was kind of homey. He wanted to know if we would make it back to Boston to vote and we explained that we had already voted by absentee ballot. We got good sleep and began our journey back home on Tuesday morning. Our plane flew over the Mediterranean and the Alps — it was spectacular!