Tour Day 5
Our first full day in Florence starts with coffee, yogurt, and fruit at the hotel. We gather as a group, and cross the Arno River. We meet our local tour guide at the Palazzo Davanzati. This palace, built in the 14th century, serves as a museum of Renaissance life. The furnishings, while not original, create a picture of how Florentines lived, and are representative of the era. The ornate wall decorations and frescoes are especially beautiful.
After the Palazzo, we regroup on the Ponte Santa Trinita, a perfect vantage point to photograph the famous Ponte Vecchio. Patricia revives our spirits with samples of local breads. Yum. We troop over to the Piazza Santo Spirito, for espresso at Caffe Ricchi. The walls of the charming cafe are lined with drawings of the Duomo. The piazza features a fresh fruit and vegetable market, one of many we see in Italy.
We wait by the fountain in the middle of the square. When everyone has gathered, we proceed to the Basilica di Santo Spirito. I have recently finished reading Irving Stone’s The Agony and The Ecstasy, so the story of Michelangelo’s connection to Santo Spirito is known to me. I have taken Rick Steves’ advice to heart: if you want to have an A+ trip, you have to be an A+ planner. Before the trip, I read a dozen novels that take place in Italy, several non-fiction books, and of course, all the relevant Rick Steves’ travel guides. I like to read. My traveling companion has prepared for the trip by downloading movies to his iPad to watch on the plane. Priorities.
See My Reading List
The basilica is austere on the outside, but the inside is a masterpiece of Renaissance design. No photography is allowed. We contemplate the many side chapels filled with works of art. On this site, Michelangelo was permitted by Augustinian monks to study the anatomy of corpses in the hospital. In thanksgiving, the seventeen-year old sculptor carved a wooden Crucifix to hang over the high altar. The Crucifix was lost, misplaced, or stored away until 1962. Now it hangs in its own chapel in the basilica.
On the day we visit, the chapel is closed. A group of professionals in suits and heels are gathered near the chapel, accompanied by photographers. Patricia works her magic with the officials. We are permitted five minutes to view the piece. We enter the space in reverent silence. The crucifix is suspended in a pool of ethereal light. We are fortunate to have this truly moving experience.
We leave the sacred space, and return to the 21st Century. Outside, we are startled by the contrast bright modern scooters make against the Renaissance architecture in Florence. We marvel at what it must be like to work and live in a city that is a living museum.
Time for a hands-on Italian cooking class at In Tavola. In the spotless demonstration kitchen, we split into groups. We mix egg into flour to make fresh pasta dough, then set it aside to rest. We chop mushrooms, and cook them in a big pan with olive oil, garlic, and wine. While the sauce simmers, we prepare tiramisu for dessert by layering coffee and brandy dipped biscuits with a mixture of eggs and Marscapone cheese. Each cup is finished with a dusting of cocoa powder.
For Pollo alla Contadina, we flour chunks of chicken, then saute in butter and olive oil. We add onion strips, roasted red peppers, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, and spices, and let it simmer for half an hour. This gives us time to cut the pasta. We roll out the dough, and run it several times through a pasta machine to make tagliarelle noodles. We are surprised at how easy it is to make pasta. Finally, we prepare a chopped tomato and basil mixture to serve atop toasted Tuscan bread that has been rubbed with garlic.
We gather together to eat our creation in the brick-walled cellar at In Tavola. The food is molto delizioso.
Are stomachs are groaning after lunch, and we need to walk. The afternoon is free to spend how we choose. My traveling companion wants to climb the Duomo, or maybe the Campanile. The line to purchase tickets is long. One of us is not good at waiting. We inch closer to the desk to pay. A sign lights up, announcing that all tickets for the Duomo are sold for the next two days. We wade through the crowd to head for the Campanile. The line stretches down the block. Now what?
I have a list of five or six places to visit. We try the Bargello Sculpture Museum, but it is closed. What museum closes at 2 o’clock in the afternoon? We learn the Medici Chapel also closed early. Hmm. We walk around, looking at leather goods. We consider buying something, but he looks like a dork in a leather hat, and I don’t need a purse, and it becomes overwhelming to look at so much leather. We give up on that idea. Now we face the largest crowd yet, and cross the Ponte Vecchio.
This medieval stone bridge was the only bridge in Florence to survive World War II. The bridge has always been lined with shops–butchers in the past, gold merchants and jewelers today. A passageway, commissioned by Cosimo I de’Medici to connect the town hall with his residence across the river, tops the stores. The bridge is jammed with tourists. We gawk at the enormous selection of jewelry.
Eternally optimistic, we head to the Bardini Garden. We trudge up the massive hill that is Via di Belvedere behind our hotel. One of us has to stop several times to rest. We find the entrance, and see grass behind a closed gate, but the garden has just closed for the day.
We continue our walk down the narrow street, hoping we are heading in the right direction. My traveling companion is looking peckish. We walk through an area where Florentines live, and admire several small artisan shops. At the bottom of the hill, we see good omens: first, a wine bar, and second, a woman walking a chubby pug, its tail curled jauntily up in the air. We are very near to our hotel.
We find a café on the street behind the hotel, and sit outside. At Osteria San Niccolo, we eat a delicious meal of Tuscan soup, salad, and local unsalted bread. The house white wine is light and refreshing. We see a couple from our group, and greet them like old friends.
More and more fellow tour members pass by. We recommend the soup, and many sit down at the café. They share their experiences of the busy afternoon with us. My traveling companion and I marvel that we have already seen more people we know at this little sidewalk café in Florence than we would see at a cafe in our hometown. So this is not a terrible day. But we have only one more day in Florence, and we realize we will not be able to see everything we want to see.
Patricia has posted the next day’s itinerary at the hotel. Tomorrow we start early!