Florence… what to say about Florence? The true birthplace of the Renaissance, a city full of wonderful art and history…and yet… it’s no Rome. Travel weariness might have been setting in, but my first day in Florence was an off day in terms of my happiness level, which I discovered as I woke up and had to force myself out of bed. I went first to the Galleria dell’Accademia, mostly to see Michelangelo’s David. Wow. The statue is situated in a way that when you turn the corner you see it at the end of a long hallway, not completely expecting it (I guess I was expecting it to be the last part of the museum visit), but when you see it you are shocked. Even studying it, I was not prepared for the actual size. Every detail is perfect- although the hands and head are not exactly proportionate, it was designed to be seen from below, so everything is actually spot on. I just can’t even imagine how anyone would be able to sculpt anything like this ever again. I also really liked Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, especially the named “Prisoners” which really do look like they are trying to escape from the half-sculpted blocks of marble. The rest of the museum was pretty mediocre, especially for someone getting tired of religious art, but they did have a pretty cool collection of musical instruments (I thought of you mom). I next walked to see the outside of the Palazzo Medici, whose architecture I studied in class, and then to the duomo (Florence’s main cathedral) to see Brunelleschi’s dome and the doors to paradise (gates of paradise? translating from Spanish here). The actual facade of the cathedral is pretty gaudy and the inside is pretty boring. I did consider climbing the dome, but if I remember correctly it was 10 Euro…really?
That’s my first Florence rant. Everything in Florence is so expensive, so I spent most of the first day walking to things I wanted to see but only seeing the outside, pissed at how much it cost to enter- even the churches! They basically slapped the word museum on the churches that have good artwork and charged to enter. In contrast, I did not pay to enter a single church in Rome. I did enjoy the Piazza della Signoria with some nice statues and a replica David. But basically, I spent the first day in Florence wandering aimlessly. The Ponte Vecchio was pretty cool, and the jewelery there was fun to look at. But overall, Florence didn’t have the same magic for me as Rome did. I know that’s an unpopular opinion. I can see how it would be nice on a bigger budget so you could commit to seeing every but of the art that makes this city legendary, but charging for all of it sucks. Even the atmosphere didn’t seem as authentic as Rome, and believe me, I did walk out of the touristy centers. Rome just had a “something” a roughness around the edges, an ability to survive with or without tourists, that made it so much more enjoyable. The first day I actually ran out of things to do at around 6pm so I just went back to the hostel.
Another thing I really felt acutely while in Italy was a guilt for not being able to speak Italian. I actually felt that a little in Portugal, and of course when I was in France, although at least in French I am almost conversational. I just feel guilty that when I speak English I assume people will understand. I feel bad that English speakers can get by easily while everyone else has to learn at least one other language (English) to get by. When I asked, I asked “do you speak English or Spanish?” I guess to show them that even as an English speaker, I was trying to learn another language, even if it wasn’t Italian. I don’t know. It’s lucky that so much of the world speaks English, but I can’t shake off the feeling of unfair privilege.
Anyway, my like-but-not-love of Florence made it even easier to decide to take a day trip the next day. I decided to go to both Lucca and Pisa because they are both close to Florence and I really just wanted to see the leaning tower in Pisa. While Lucca was pretty much deserted, I liked it a lot. It had the vibe of a real Tuscan city, with almost empty but beautiful streets and I really didn’t see any other tourists. I guess it’s just the time of year. I didn’t really do anything, just wandered around in circles for a few hours, popped in a few churches. The coolest thing about Lucca is they have a wall that completely surrounds the old part of the city, but you can walk on it, and I saw many residents either biking or running on the wall. I may have missed out a little not being in Tuscany, especially this little town, in the spring or summer, but I don’t regret avoiding the 2+ hour lines I would have encountered in Rome and Florence. After Lucca, I took a quick 20 minute train to Pisa. The tower made me laugh but it was also kind of beautiful. I also went in the Cathedral, although very quickly because I got there shortly before it closed. All of that only took about an hour, so to kill time I found a free art collection in the culture center of Pisa. I actually liked Pisa and wish I could have spent a little more time there- I think because of the University it would be a really cool place to either study abroad or live as a young person. Back in the hostel I got to know a few of my roommates a little more, and really bonded with a guy from Chicago and a Canadian girl.
The next day I went to the Bargello in the morning, a small museum but with many beautiful sculptures. It is known for having a lot of Donatello works, especially his David of Medici and the original of the St. George that used to be outside the church of Orsanmichele. Also present are the original samples of what were to be the doors of paradise. In 1401 in Florence they decided to have a contest to choose a sculptor for the second set of doors in the baptistry of the duomo. It had to be bronze with the theme of the sacrifice of Isaac. The competitors were Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, who won. This is considered to be the event that started the Renaissance, so it was awesome to see these bronze demos. Pictures were not allowed here either, so here is a collage of my favorites:
After, I went to a delicious panini place with the Chicagoan from my hostel, got delicious gelato, and then we parted ways as I went to the Uffizi gallery. It was enormous. I’m talking 100 rooms enormous. At the end I was just strolling straight through and I still spent about 3 hours in there. Obviously the art was pretty fabulous though, and I appreciated even more the ones I had studied, like Botticelli’s works, Michelangelo’s tondo… there were just so many! Here are my favorites. Clearly I am in love with Botticelli.
Next, I walked to the Piazza Michelangelo for a great view of Florence. Next it was back to the hostel to relax and take a quick nap before heading out to get a taste of the Florence night life. Alex, Caitlin (Chicagoan and Canadian) and I split two bottles of cheap wine (although it’s Italian wine, so that makes it special) while walking down the street and then started the night at a gay bar (called “Yag” haha). Alex is gay and wanted to go, and Caitlin and I decided we were up for anything. After a little while we went to another place, but it was absolutely FILLED with Americans. We definitely could have done that at home, so we went back to Yag for a little bit, where Caitlin and I basically just watched Alex try to get lucky with the Italians. It was actually really fun though. We ended our night with greasy, delicious street pizza at 4:00 am. I’m definitely glad I went out.
My last morning in Florence, I packed and went back for another great panini and my last gelato with Caitlin. It’s really bittersweet connecting with someone at a hostel or while traveling, because she is really great. While I like the majority of the people I meet while traveling, she was different in that I feel as though if we lived closer we could genuinely become friends – I didn’t like her just because of the circumstance, we really got along and connected. It’s sad- we said goodbye knowing almost for certain we would never see each other again. I guess I should plan a trip to Vancouver. From Florence, I took the train back to Rome and from Rome I flew (after a 2 hour delay) back to Seville. What an incredibly busy, incredibly fun week in Italy. While I could take or leave Florence, I’m really hoping the Trevi fountain will work its magic and someday I will be able to return to Rome. It’s ciao until then!