Tuesday, February 28
Our hotel provides breakfast, but since we keep kosher, we can only sigh at the croissants and other pastries. We have cereal, fuit, and coffee that looks kind of muddy and tastes, well, not like the coffee I'm used to. But I brought along three boxes of South Beach nutrition bars, which are in my camel tote, along with a zippered plastic bag filled with almonds.
After leaving our key at the front desk (the clerk recommended leaving it there, and our passports locked in the safe in our room -- pickpockets, again), we head for the Uffizi, Firenze's most famous art museum. Friends had told us to order tickets in advance. The museum is a main attraction, and it's often impossible to get in, and even if you can get tickets the day you want to tour, you'll have to wait in line for hours.
So I booked two tickets on-line for the Uffizi, and two more for the Accademia for the following day. I paid a fee for booking on-line, of course. And if my copy of Rick Steve's Italy 2006 had arrived in time for me to actually read it (I ordered it three weeks ahead, with the understanding that it shipped within 24 hours- not), Rick would have told me that my hotel would have booked the tickets for me, with no extra charge. Next time...
It's a twenty-minute walk from our hotel to the Uffizi along the Arno River. The day is glorious. The sun glints off the river, off the houses on the south side of Firenze, off the bridges we pass. Perched precariously against the embankment of one of the bridges are young lovers, lost in an embrace. I could stand here for an hour or more, gazing at the Arno, but we have to be at the museum before ten.
Firenze is full of cars, including the occasional "smart cars" - it has no back seat. And scooters. Tons of scooters. Sidewalks are narrow, and we find ourselves frequently moving sideways to allow people to pass. The air is crisp, but not cold. And I'm wearing the silk underwear I bought at Sports Chalet. A good purchase, as it turns out. We pass the famous Ponte Vecchio - Old Bridge - cross the street, and enter the courtyard of the Uffizi.
It's an impressive courtyard, surrounded on either side by impressive gray stone buildings that block the sunlight. We find the ticket-holders line, learn that we first have to pick up tickets in another area. While my husband gets the tickets, I fend off two women trying to sell me burnt velvet scarves.
Inside the museum we pass through security and pay for headphones and a taped tour. 6.50 euro for two of us with a shared tape. So now we're tethered together. Our guide narrator is British and knowledgeable. He expounds upon room after room of famous art, most of it religious and, after a while, overwhelming. To do the musuem justice you'd need hours to study each masterpiece, but a taste is really enough. I admire Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus," "La Primavera." A Rembrandt catches my eye. The rest becomes a blur. I want to return to the Botticelli's, but I can't remember what room they're in, and the narrator can't oblige.
On the second floor courtyard we snack on South Beach bars and watch the pigeons that come up to our feet. From where we're sitting we can see a hint of the Duomo. In the museum shop I'm tempted to buy postcard-size reproductions of some of the art, or maybe a deck of playing cards. But I'm a bad decision maker, and in the end I leave empty-handed.
We stroll along the narrow streets and step into some leather shops. I'm looking for gifts for my mah jong pals, but nothing catches my eye. In San Croce Piazza we ask a woman where we can find San Lorenzo Square with its outdoor leather stalls. Turns out she was born in California, came to Florence years ago, married a Florentian, and has lived here ever since. I can see why.
More strolling takes us to the Duomo, an enormous, magnificent cathedral that defies description. (My husband took this shot, and all the others, aside from that of the Cisalpino train. For an aerial view of the Duomo, click on the link.) We gaze at the building a while - we don't go in - and walk along side streets that take us to San Lorenzo Piazza. The place reminds me of Santee Street in downtown Los Angeles. Stall after stall with leather goods, scarves, trinkets, magnets, purses. I buy a taupe pashmina shawl and a lamb's wool plaid scarf from a lovely woman named Nicolette. I'm tempted to buy more scarves for gifts, and a turquoise pashmina for myself, but I'm also eager to check out the other stalls. Maybe I'll like something else more. Maybe I'll find better prices... And my husband is becoming impatient. Actually, he was impatient the moment I picked up the first scarf. Although he did get a beautiful red silk tie...
Tourist rule #1: Don't wait for "better" or "less expensive." If you like something, buy it. You won't find better or cheaper. You won't go back to the original place. You'll brood about this for several hours.
Tourist rule #2: Plan a day for shopping, and arrange an alternate activity for your spouse or signifcant other.
I tie my new plaid scarf around my neck and slip the taupe pashmina into my tote. From San Lorenzo we walk to Ruth's, where we enjoy lunch and a conversation with Simcha, our new best friend. We meet an American couple who have just toured the synagogue. We had planned to visit the synagogue after lunch, but they tell us it's closed for the day.
There's always domani.
Simcha tells us, with regret, that he won't be able to accommodate us for dinner that night.
"I have a big group coming, from England. No more space. Unless you want to come after nine-thirty?"
Nine-thirty sounds late for dinner. There's a teeny kosher market a block from Ruth's. We check it out, but aren't familiar with the products, so we pass. It's almost three. Lunch was filling. And I do have more South Beach bars, and almonds. And two chocolate chip Danish.
We return to our hotel, taking side streets that change names with mercurial frequency, checking our map to make sure we're headed in the right direction. Our feet ache from the cobblestones, but taking a taxi is silly. We're almost home. We pass more shops that look inviting, more piazzas with churches (one has a Star of David at the top; we learn later that the architect was Jewish). More scooters.
It's around five when we're back in our room. We don't have an evening plan. Ruth's is out. We watch Italian TV - a program that resembles American Idol. Then a singer makes her entrance - she's met with huge applause. She's a star. She looks stark, and her song is morose, lugubrious.
I read more of Daniel Silva's The Confessor. I check my e-mail. I do a few Sudoku puzzles and some Yoga stretches to work off the pan Toscani, then go to sleep.