The Renaissance Migraine

Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
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Trip End May 23, 2008


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Friday, August 31, 2007

ˇ Florence, Tuscany, Italy
ˇ GMT +1:00 hour

Boring Arty Stuff?
Our brief stop in northern Italy came to an end and we moved south to the Tuscany region and a 3 night stay in its capital, Florence. The region of Tuscany may be better known internationally for it wines (the Chianti region is just south of the city) but, sadly, there was to be no vineyard trips on our itinerary. No Sir, we were going to spend our time in Florence looking at century old buildings, sculptures and works of art by weird named guys, the majority of which I'd never heard of before. You see, Florence is, or was, the staging and focal point for the Italian Renaissance, a period of artistic, literary and architectural rebirth (renaissance means rebirth). It was a period from around the end of the 14th century to 1600, with the period of so-called 'High Renaissance' occurring from about 1490-1520, a period dominated by the everyone-has-heard-of-them artists like Leonardo Da Vinci (The Mona Lisa), Raphael and Michelangelo (Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, statue of 'David').

This was a part of the trip Meg had been looking forward to as she had majored (as they say in North America) in Art History in university. Me? Well, I'm game for anything and while I'd be the first to admit that I was totally ignorant of the architectural and artistic gems I was about to be properly introduced to, it was still kind of exciting to be here. But I had, as always, done my homework on what I'd be ogling at in Florence (thank you Canadian government for giving me the time to do so by rejecting my work visa) and had even printed out pages of information to supplement our visit to the main art gallery in the city, The Uffizi. It houses the Worlds greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art, a collection of art given to the city by the Medici family, avid patrons of the arts and rulers of the astonishingly wealthy Florence city state from the 13th to 17th centuries. They financed most of the renaissance movement, commissioning numerous famous works of art and constructing many of Florence's notable buildings, including the Uffizi Gallery itself.

Summary
I'm all too aware as I type this, just before leaving Florence for our flying visit to Pisa, that in a few hours I'll have yet another location to write about. Thus we'll try sum up our three days in Florence in as compendious a manner as possible. Please don't think that for lack of interest in crafting (crafting... guess we've seen too many sculptures over the past few days) this entry. On the contrary, there's nothing in the world I'd rather be doing right now than typing this. Btw, if you sensed a hint, just a hint mind you, of sarcasm in there then I obviously didn't hide it well enough. Must try harder.

Day 15 - August 28th 2007
We arrived from Venice and soon noticed how Florence actually has cars, not to mention countless mopeds/scooters. We found our hostel (it was once a convent, no less) and eventually got over the excitement of having WiFi internet access (albeit with an intermittent, and thus frustrating, connection). We walked around Florence and noted that it really is a nice city even if, like Venice, its buildings could do with a bit of TLC. We went looking for a supermarket only to end up in a beautiful restaurant, the quality of the food served in which we doubt will be topped. It was there that we had our first taste of REAL Italian pasta and tiramisu, both of which had to have been delivered straight from heaven itself, possibly via the restaurant kitchen.

Day 16 - August 29th 2007
A full day in each city seems to be reserved for seeing the sights (meaning we pay into the sights we want to see) and today was the day for Florence. We visited a few churches (one of which required a payment for admission and didn't allow pictures, the other was free and allowed us to snap away to our hearts content), a few piazza's (squares) and walked endless tight lanes. We also visited a place that was touted as Dante's house but was actually a disappointing museum in a building that 'may' have been in the area of where the dude, a medieval Italian poet, lived. We paid €8 to get in and about all we know about Dante (1265-1321) now is that he lived in Florence a long, long time ago and wrote a three-part poem called 'The Devine Comedy'. It took a while for the 'you've-been-had' feeling to subside. The day ended on a better note with the hostel WiFi connection holding out long enough to Skype Canada.

Day 17 - August 30th 2007
We spent the day in the aforementioned Uffizi gallery and realised that museums in Italy are not as good, or patron friendly, as they are in France. Should we vent here or wait until the 'Observations' section? Ummm, ok, let's get it out of the way now. We can only assume that it's because of its status as the city's key attraction that the directors of the gallery feel no shame in making you queue for an hour and a half for admission. And once you do get in you find that they don't take credit cards (no biggie, I guess, but a sign outside stating this would be nice), they don't give you a floor plan/maps of the gallery (a biggie) and you're not allowed take pictures (a massive biggie). After that it's probably not even worth mentioning the plethora of 'This Area of the Gallery is being reorganised' signs, the covered statues and the very disorganised, poorly labeled displays and crap lighting in some of the galleries. Now we understand that we haven't painted a very flattering picture (no pun intended) of the Uffizi, and you, avid Travelpod reader, might be of the impression that our Uffizi experience was a total bust. Well, it wasn't.... it was great to see the works of art we saw and needless to say it was a highlight of our trip for Meg (and me too). We guess all the above listed frustrations (which, being honest, that's all they were) merely served to highlight the differences in the two world class galleries we've visited on this trip, they being The Louvre in Paris and now The Uffizi in Florence.

We spent the rest of the day and evening organising onward travel in and out of Italy, organising our bags for today's departure and cursing ourselves for not going back to the restaurant we frequented on our first night in the city (we were going to but changed our mind in favour of another restaurant that, in hindsight, wasn't as good).

And that was that
So that's what we did during our three days in Florence, three days we spent being just two more bodies in a large sea of tourists. I guess I have to practice being compendious. Let's see if I do any better with the observations. Btw, we realise this is, officially, the second Italian city we've been to. However, we have alluded to the fact that Venice isn't really Italy (I think the term I used in the last entry was 'ossified' when describing its status within the country) and thus we feel we didn't see the 'real' Italy, albeit still with a serious touristy twist, until we got here to Florence. Therefore, we suspect our following observations from Florence will hold true for the rest of the locations we'll visit in Italy. If not we will, of course, be sure to correct ourselves. Anyway, I digress. See you in Pisa, our next stop. Our train leaves in a few hours. Upwards and onwards.

Day 15 to 17 Observations (August 28 to 30th 2007)

ˇ Your Choice
Every shop in Florence is a café, ice-cream parlour, pharmacy or fancy boutique. We probably wouldn't be allowed into a fancy boutique even if we tried, but we have been frequenting the parlours, cafés and recently the pharmacies as well (although we'd rather be avoiding them).

ˇ "Signor, Mi sucsi!"
All waiters in restaurants are old men, cute old men according to Meg. Think Manuel in Faulty Towers and you'll be close on the money (you Canadians might have no idea what 'Faulty Towers' is? ... sorry); they all have white aprons, a white cloth over their arm and they really do fuss over your table. It's great. BTW, service levels are generally very high and unlike in France you can almost be assured of a smile and even some courtesy while being served your bowl of pasta. "Grazie!"

ˇ "What's this charge for?"
It's not all well in restaurants however. How does this sound... you have to pay a 'cover charge' to sit in a restaurant. Yep, they charge you anything from €1.50 - €5 just to, we guess, give them your custom. Easy money, eh?

ˇ Beep, beep!
I know it's a classic Italian stereotype but they really do all ride around on mopeds. And they, men and women alike, are all Valentino Rossi wannabes, racing at breakneck speeds through the narrow streets, weaving precariously, but skilfully, between Fiats, Lancia's (yep, they still have them on the roads over here), Alfa Romeo's and Smart cars. Reminds me of the Eddie Izzard 'Ciao' skit he did years ago on Italians riding mopeds. It must be on YouTube... check it out.

ˇ Wits about you
The streets here are narrow, busy and very noisy. They are filled with mopeds, parked cars and pedestrians, all hoping to make it to their destination in one piece. Most do.

ˇ Dirty, despite best efforts
The streets are also very dirty (no real sign of graffiti, however), even though there seems to be an abundance of city street sweepers on every street corner. Some of them even drive around in those silly little cabins-on-wheels type street sweepers, the ones with the next to useless circular brushes that only seem to succeed in adding to the already loud noise levels on the street.

ˇ Police
There are Police everywhere. Not sure why. We assume there is always a big law enforcement presence on the streets of such a touristy city and it isn't just because of our arrival in the city. Of course not.

ˇ Hawkers
There is also an abundance of street hawkers on the streets, and while their numbers are very high they all sell the same thing; knock-off Prada, D&G, Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags/purses and sunglasses. Even I recognise the opportunity here to get original and sell something different.

ˇ Cat and mouse
Because we mentioned the police and the hawkers we have to mention the game of cat and mouse that goes on between them. It's one of the best 'free' spectacles on offer in the city. Picture this... the hawkers comprise of the bag/purse sellers and the sunglasses sellers. The bag sellers lay their stock on huge white sheets on the ground, the sunglasses sellers on foldaway cardboard boxes. It's business as usual until there is sign of approaching police, at which point the sheet quickly turns into a huge white sack on the back of Mr. Bag/Purse seller while Mr. Sunglasses seller acquires a large cardboard folder under his arm. And there they stand, on the side of the road, as the police crawl by at maybe 5-10km per hour, peering at the hawkers who make no effort to return their gazes. When the police have passed the sheet is spread back out on the path (sidewalk), the cardboard box is opened out again and a few minutes is spent meticulously placing bags/purses and sunglasses in the desired positions. You'll have to take our word for it when we say it's a funny sight to see and as far as we could tell the hawkers seem to have the better end of the deal as the police have either very limited powers or they just couldn't be bothered to apprehend due to the sheer numbers of hawkers on the streets.

ˇ It's hot
Definitely hotter than in Venice. Seems like we we're right when we said it'll be getting hotter as we head south. My farmers tan is almost gone. Looking every bit the bronzed God I know I can be.

ˇ It really does taste better
Italian food really does taste better in Italy. We can vouch for that. While it doesn't take a world renowned chef to rustle up a simple pasta dish, here it just tastes better.

ˇ There's money here
There are quite a few flash cars on the roads. I've seen a few Alfa GT's, quite a few BMW's, Merc's and Audi's. I guess that's really only apparent to us because we've spent the past few days looking at cable cars and boats.

ˇ "Hand me the sanitizer please"
Don't Italians wash their hand after a visit to the jacks (washroom)? It doesn't seem like it to us as no toilet, public or otherwise, seems to supply any form of soap/lotion for washing your hands. If you're lucky you'll get a working tap but don't be expecting any way to dry those hands of yours.

ˇ Same same? Si, no?
I know the linguists out there will be quick to correct me and tell me they couldn't be more different but to me Italian sounds very like Spanish. Having a basic conversational grasp of Spanish means I seem to understand a little of what the Italians are saying (at least I think I do). Only a little, mind you... I still haven't a clue what's going on most of the time. It's still more than Meg understands however. I think she's still yearning for French, although she does agree Italian is nicer on the ears than German. Si, si.

ˇ €8 licks
I spent €8 on an ice cream when we were queuing for the Uffizi Gallery. Meg sent me off to get a bit of ice cream to help pass the time as we queued. I waited until we had finished it before telling her it cost €8. Was it nice? Yes, of course.... to give them credit the Italians know a thing or two about how to make nice ice cream. But €8 nice? No way.
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