Florence and Pisa
Lia and I went to Florence last weekend. I had never been to Italy, and I thought, since I'm in Europe, I might as well go see the country that fostered one of the world's greatest empires (so my decision was heavily influenced by watching too many episodes of Rome).
Florence was a beautiful, crowded, lively city with narrow windy streets shared equally with cars and pedestrians. Random piazzas dominated by massive cathedrals and palazzos punctuated the city, setting the tone for each area. The massive Duemo cathedral dominated the skyline almost everywhere we were. Lia and I navigated using these landmarks, keeping track of where we were in relation to the Duemo, the Uffizi, and the Bascilica of San Lorenzo. Most of the buildings were very old-looking, though in good condition. Of course, cafes were ubiquitous, serving as social stops and providing coffee, food, treats, and alcohol. Cafes and clothes stores. There were a lot of those, all sporting the latest in edgy Italian fashion that was a little disconnected from the old architecture of the city. The Italians had a thing for gigantic buildings, made to seem even more massive through the use of seriously oversized doors and windows. Walking around the city in the shadow of the buildings made me feel like a dwarf or someone transported to a land of giants.
We arrived at 6am, from the overnight train, and made our way into the old city in the dark, stopping at one of the few open cafes for an American breakfast (Italians do not get up early). We were pretty dazed all day as a result of the train ride. We spent the first day wandering around the city, enjoying the crowds and the food. We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant in the Piazza Republica, enjoying delicious Italian pizza (of course). We did not know that most of the museums were closed on Monday, so we did some shopping and explored the streets, getting lost in the process. Our hostel was a tidy place nestled in the back on the second floor of an old building. We didn't spend much time there, except to take a late afternoon nap before heading out for dinner at a restaurant down the street. We had a delicious eggplant parmesan and gnocchi dinner at a restaurant that used antique writing desks for tables situated in what looked like a giant wine cellar. After dinner, we enjoyed the nightlife (much more interesting that the early morning life) and took in what of the artwork was displayed outdoors.
The next day, we got up early, checked out of our hostel, and immediately made our way to the Galleria Academia to beat the crowds. This was the one thing we'd been dying to see: Michelangelo's David. It did not disappoint. Most of the gallery contained religious paintings, but the David had a whole terrace to itself, standing massively beneath a great dome. The thing that struck me most about the statue was not its size, though it was big. What was most amazing was the sense of magnificence and glory that surrounded the statue. Something about how Michelangelo had sculpted it (probably his genius use of perspective) gave it an air of power and importance that went beyond its size and skill). Truly an experience.
The remainder of Tuesday was spent in Pisa. We caught a train from Florence to Pisa and wandered the town trying to find the leaning tower. When we did find it, it was definitely worth it. The tower is part of the grounds of a great cathedral complex. Seeing such a massive tower of marble leaning at such an angle was quite alarming, but people were climbing it. We has pizza in Pisa (of course) and walked back to the train station, going through the main street, which was packed as tight as Macy's in New York on Black Friday with shoppers buying designer Italian clothes and Christmas souvenirs.
We returned to Florence via train, had a light dinner at a cafe (read cannoli) before making our way back to the Campus of Mars train station and catching another overnight train back to Switzerland. Immediately upon arriving, we set off for the Matterhorn, but that's for another post.