Europe Trip 2013 – Part Six: Florence, Italy

This summer Peter and I went on an adventure to Europe. With the help of a stellar memory and my obsessive journalling, I’m sharing those adventures with you.

Part One: Duisburg, Germany

Part Two: Fritzlar, Germany

Part Three: Bern, Switzerland

Part Four: Lake Como, Italy

Part Five: Venice, Italy

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Ponte Vecchia

For me, Florence was all about the art. While I wouldn’t say I hated Florence, it was probably our least favourite stop along the way. In Florence we stayed in the worst hotel of our trip. In Florence we ate the worst pizza of our travels. (Though, also, the best pizza.) I’m glad that we got to see this historic city and I don’t feel much of a need to go back. Instead, I would love to see more of Tuscany and the surrounding area.

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We arrived in Florence mid-afternoon, after an easy train trip from Venice. We had a room booked at the Hotel Curtatone and were able to find the address with much difficulty. There was a big wooden door and a buzzer with the hotel’s name. We rang it. We rang it several times and never got an answer. It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Siesta should be over but it was also too early for reception to be closed. After several more futile attempts we decided to visit the hotel next door, the Hotel Argentina, and ask if they knew how to contact the Hotel Curtatone.

“We have a reservation at the hotel next door,” we told the man at the front desk when he asked us if we had a reservation.

“That is our hotel,” he said.

Our best guess, in the end, was that the Hotel Argentina had recently taken over the Hotel Curtatone. Why they didn’t take down the Curtatone sign, I couldn’t tell you. But we had our room.

Further to our guess of the recent takeover was the fact that the halls of the Hotel Curtatone/Argentina were full of furniture. Mattresses leaning up against walls. Identical desks stacked upon one another. Our room was excessively bare bones. Nothing on the walls. A wardrobe that seemed to be locked. Our balcony lacked one railing and looked into what might have been a storage area or could simply have been stuff on its way to the junk yard. The bathroom had no overhead light and so, to avoid showering in the dark, the door had to remain open. No, I do not recommend this hotel.

Definitely the most unique-looking Cathedral we visited. The dome here is modelled after the dome of the Pantheon in Rome.

Definitely the most unique-looking Cathedral we visited. The dome here is modelled after the dome of the Pantheon in Rome.

Our goals in Florence were all art-related. Rick Steves informed us reservations were the way to go for the major museums but we weren’t that organized. We picked the two museums we wanted to visit most – L’Accademia and Bargello. (The fellow at the front desk of our hotel had never heard of the Bargello museum.)

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Figuring that L’Accademia would be the busiest, we woke up early Tuesday morning and headed over. We were over an hour early and we were the very first ones in line. Peter went to find an ATM and some breakfast while I waited in line with Dutch history teacher (who explained why he hated Rome) and a young woman from Alabama. I dropped the word “about” in conversation and she immediately asked me if I was Canadian.

The highlight of L’Accademia is, of course, Michelangelo’s David. Arriving so early gave us a fantastic opportunity to study the sculpture without crowds of people around. A wide hallway lined with Michelangelo’s unfinished works, The Prisoners draws you in to view David.

I haven’t studied art much but in an instant it was easy to see why David is so famous. Of all the historic and magnificent works we viewed in Europe this summer, David was the most amazing. That sight alone makes the trip to Florence worthwhile.

The sculpture itself was much larger than I expected. It dominates the space and yet it feels surprisingly intimate. As you approach, you look up into David’s face, turned away slightly. He appears to be the master of the situation. His giant right hand – the hand of God – poised to defeat Goliath. As you get closer though, and turn to view him directly face-on, you see the doubt in his expression. His fear. It’s the precise moment before he acts and he isn’t sure of the outcome. It’s such a human expression, so honest and vulnerable.

At the Barghello Museum we were able to view Donatello’s David, as well as other artists interpretations. (Apparently, David was a popular Renaissance subject.) Every other artist we saw portrayed David after Goliath’s death. David victorious, confident, proud. Michelangelo showed us the most human version.

Courtyard of the Bargello Museum, formerly a prison.

Courtyard of the Bargello Museum, formerly a prison.

Our explorations took us across the river where we wandered around the Palazzo Pitti. After the decadence of Venice, Florence seemed strangely plain with its brick and stone. The Medici influence is everywhere though and we quickly came to recognize statues of Cosimi de Medici. He seems to have had particularly distinctive eyes.

Cosimo on a horse.

Cosimo on a horse.

It was on this side of the river that we found our second highlight of Florence – a small pizzeria called Gusta Pizza. One delicious calzone later and the previous night’s taste was out of my mouth. (Our first night in Florence we ate pizza near our hotel, close to the train station. I used to think, “Pizza is pizza. How badly can you mess it up?” Really badly, is the answer. Even in Italy.)

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In the afternoon we stumbled across a huge indoor market. Stalls of dried fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, fish, and so much olive oil! We tried samples of cheese, truffle oil, and 20-year-old Balsamic vinegar.We sat outside in the sunshine drinking coffee before wandering through the Bargello museum. Then we paid way too much for gelato but that’s part of travelling too, I suppose.

A stall at the market in Florence.

A stall at the market in Florence.

Gusta Pizza for dinner. Why mess with a good thing, right? Since it’s such a crowded little place, we took our pizza and our beer and found a square around the corner. Seated on the steps of the inevitable church, we enjoyed our delicious dinner. That’s another great thing about Europe – how acceptable it is to drink outdoors and in public. Many people around us had the same idea and had the same pizza boxes as we did. We people-watched and felt relaxed for the first time in Florence. Our proudest moment was when an Italian couple came up to us and asked, in Italian, where we got our pizza. Through laughs and hand gestures we explained and in a few moments they returned with their own box and waved to us as they sat on the steps nearby.

An Italian vending machine. Noodles, Nutella, and cartons of millk - everything you might need but wine.

An Italian vending machine. Noodles, Nutella, and cartons of millk – everything you might need but wine.

Next stop: Rome

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