Italy with the Family Day 6: Lessons Learned

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June 29th 2014
Published: June 30th 2014
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Got up today ready to roll. We had an all day tour today—in the morning to the Acadamia where the David (the REAL David) is located and in the afternoon to the Uffizi Gallery, the collection of the Medici and Hapsburg families that is called the premier collection of Italian Renaissance art.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Just so you’ll understand the tone of today’s blog, here’s what we learned: Beth and Mark should NOT, emphasize NOT, take big company commercial organized tours. Translation: any tour which accommodates more that 16 to 20 people is not for us. The reason I had booked this all day tour was because I read online that you need advanced tickets to get into the Academia and the Uffizi. When I Googled that, this came up and I couldn’t see another way to buy tickets, so I bit. (SUCK-ER!!)

We got up, got ready, got breakfast (Free at the Hotel David!) and got a taxi back to the train station which is where the tour was to begin. We found the meeting spot, turned in our voucher, and got on the bus. The 48 passenger bus. Uh oh. Actually, it started well. They took us to the top of a hill on the south side of the Arno—Michelangelo’s Plaza—and we had a beautiful view of Florence. I tried out my panorama option on my camera. Cool! The guide, who’s name was Elizabeth (pronounced Elizabetta) talked about the founding of Florence and the horrible Medici family. Evil, evil Medici. They owned the town and were evil dictators and ruled Florence during her glory days even though they were evil dictators. From there we could also see the Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge not blown up by the Nazis during WWII. After about a 20-minute visit, we got back on the bus and went on a short drive through Florence, passing by the Ponte Vecchio which was the only bridge not blown up by the Nazis. Mark and I looked at each other—hadn’t we heard that before? The bus stopped, we got off and walked towards the Academia, the art academy which houses, among other things, Michelangelo’s David. We passed by the Duomo and got some information about the dome and the Baptistery doors. We got to the Academia and the line for reserved tickets was very long. Elizabeth had given us each a receiver with an earpiece attached so she could explain what we were seeing. As instructed we all turned them on. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. Mark and I were pretty chill—I mean, there was nothing we could do about it—but there was this woman who had started complaining from the moment we got on the bus and now she was in full form. Woman: “Our ticket says we are to enter between 11:30 and 12:15. It’s 12:00. They won’t let us in.” Elizabeth: “It’s not a problem. They’ll let us in.” Woman: “We’re supposed to have lunch with our tour. We’ll miss lunch.” Elizabeth: “The guide will meet you and take you to lunch at the end of the tour. It’s not a problem.” Woman: “If we go to lunch, we’ll miss everything.” Elizabeth: “You’ll have time to see everything. The guide will be waiting for you. It’s not a problem.” But the wait was long. Even the tour guides were gathering together and commiserating. One tour guide from Princess Cruises was trying to make a case that he should go first (that did not happen. Can’t imagine what Woman would have said to that!) After an hour and ten minute wait, we finally got in, got through security, quickly down the halls of priceless artwork and into the hall of the David. Elizabeth started speaking but the volume was really low. We’d had the receivers on since she handed them out and the batteries were beginning to fade. We got in the wing with the David at the end but Elizabeth stopped us and started talking about the Michelangelo statues that lined the room up to the David. The statues were called The Slaves and at first glance appeared to be unfinished. Elizabeth started explaining that, although the captions on the pedestal of each statue said, “Michelangelo—Incompleto”, she said that they really were social statements about the human spirit and how we are all enslaved to something. Notice that the feet and hands and part of the head are not free, this is a statement about the human condition. We moved onto the next statue. She said, “As you can see, this figure looks like it is emerging from the stone. That’s not because it’s incomplete but because it is a statement about the slavery of the human spirit. Michelangelo made 6 of these statues, four are here, two are in Paris at the Lourve.” Then she went on about that statue for a while. We moved to the next statue. “Again, you see the figure looks like it is caught in the stone, enslaved to the human spirit…” At this point, I thought, “Okay, Mark is going to loose it.” Mark’s favorite artist is Willem de Kooning, a German abstract expressionist who painted a series of works called Woman (Woman I, II, III, etc.) One day an art historian was explaining to De Kooning what the spiritual and social significance was of these paintings. De Kooning looked at the academic and said, “They’re just funny ladies.” Mark’s been hooked ever since. This type of “everything has greater social, emotional, spiritual and astronomical meaning, reflecting the cosmos and the ethereal world yet to come” stuff is NOT his bag. I looked around and sure enough, he had wandered off and was looking at the works in the cross halls. Elizabeth was reiterating that four of these statues were here, two were in Paris but they all represent the enslavement of the human spirit, etc., etc., etc., to quote the King of Siam. Eventually, after explaining to us the statue of Atlas whose head could not be seen clearly because “he was weighed down with the responsibility of the world just like humans are weighed down with social and political expectations of life…” we got to the David. By this time my receiver was going in and out (further proof that there is a God) and I shut Elizabeth off. Peace—and a moment for my own reflection. The David is simply magnificent. There are so many things to be in awe of about this sculpture—the intense look in David’s eyes, the implied movement in his legs and arm, the detailed veins in his right hand and arm. I mean, how do you do that? One wrong slip and it’s a different statue. What was he seeing? What was he thinking? It’s truly stunning, and took my breath away just as it did when I first saw it back in 1977. Elizabeth talked about the David for about 15 minutes, most of which I did not hear (shucks!) and then she announced that those of us going to lunch needed to meet the guide who would take us to the restaurant. That was us so we headed out. Mark needed to stop and use the restroom, which he did and when we walked out, the guide, whom we had met earlier so we knew who to look for, was nowhere to be found. We hung around for a few minutes and finally said to heck with it. The most important thing for us was getting to the Uffizi that afternoon and Mark remembered that the guide in the morning had said the Uffizi tour would leave at 2:45 from the same place as the Academia tour had left in the morning.

I whipped out my handy iPhone, launched Yelp and found Trattoria San Lorenzo on San Lorenzo square that had good reviews. It wasn’t far and was on the way to the tour meeting site so we headed over. They had a table for us and, here was a bonus, we were the only Americans in the place. I ordered prosciutto with melon and Mark ordered prosciutto and pecorino and we got a half-carafe of vino bianco to split. I have to say, the prosciutto and melon was fabulous—so fresh and flavorful and cool. Mark’s cheese was wonderful as well and we shared lunch and every now and again said, “The spiritual significance of this cheese shows the aged and odiferous condition of the human spirit,” just because we were feeling silly. We told the our waiter we might be back for dinner. And the bonus of this lunch, no Woman and her complaints. Yes!

We got to the bus stop for the second tour at 2:40, got checked in and Mark said, “We were left at the last tour. We want our money back for lunch.” The woman said, “Oh, I’m sorry. We’ll give you lunch tomorrow.” No, we want our money back. How about lunch another day? Mark said, “We do not want another lunch. We want a refund for lunch part of what we paid.” She said, “Okay. We will refund you.” Onto the next bus. This bus had both Spanish and English speaking people on board. Our guide who’s name was Renaldo, was much better than Elizabeth although he too told us several times that the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge left intact by the Nazis. This bus took us up into the hills on the other side of Florence and then dropped us off by the River for a short walk to the Uffizi gallery. Renaldo spent quite a lot of time talking about the Evil Medici, the horrible dictator Medici, the horrendous Medici, etc. etc. etc. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they were for the most part tyrannical and horrid as advertised, but when the Medici family was in charge, Florence was also the most powerful and prosperous city in what is now Italy and truly in most of Europe. There has to be some balance here, don’t you think? We got to the Uffizi, got our receivers and this time it did not take us long at all to get in. Renaldo took us into the gallery, starting us in a room with 3 exampled of Madonna and Child from the late Medieval period. I looked at the one on the left and thought, “That one must be from about 1250 or so.” Looked at the information placard. 1240. She still has it! I told Mark what was significant about each of these works in the evolution of painting pre Renaissance. As soon as I finished, Renaldo said, “You can see as the art progresses, the Madonna and Child become more the same sizes as the other people in the painting and that the child becomes more realistic.” That is JUST what I had said to Mark. Mark looked at me and I shrugged—sorry! We did follow Renaldo through the gallery as he knew where the Botticelli’s and Fillipo Lippi’s and Raphael’s were located. He also showed us the only surviving Michelangelo painting in Florence and one of the few that are farmable as most of his painting was of the large mural variety, and, of course, pointed to the Ponte Vecchio through a window and said, “The Ponte Vecchio. The only bridge not blown up by the Nazis.” It was a nice visit, well worth the time but really, we could have done this on our own.

After we left the tour, we wandered through the rest of the museum, finding the Titians, a Raphael which for years was thought to be Hans Holbein portrait of Martin Luther, and Bacchus and Medusa, both by Carvaggio. I also took a picture of the bust of Marcus Aurelius. Andrew would appreciate that.

We had dinner reservations at the place we didn’t stay at yesterday and, though we had talked about changing them to 9:00, Mark suggested we keep the 7:00 and then go back to the hotel. Great idea! We had about an hour to kill so stopped in a tavern and ordered 2 Coke Lites and 2 bottles of water. They were delicious as they should have been since the bill came to 19 Euros—that’s nearly $26.

We walked across the Ponte Vecchio (and yes, we each said, “This is the only bridge not blown up by the Nazis” at least twice) and to the restaurant. The maître de recognized us with a smile and said, “Your table is right here.” Perfect! Shortly afterward another couple came in and sat down and they asked us how our day had been. We said we had done two tours. The man said, “Oh no! Not two tours! Never do that in a day!” We said we knew. They were from Australia but their youngest daughter lives in London so they come to Europe about once a year to see her. They said the restaurant was quite good—they’d been here three nights and this was their second meal at this place. And they were right—it was delicious! Mark had a tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and I had a cheese ravioli with a sage and butter sauce. Delicious! Then Mark had a sautéed chicken with a pecorino cheese sauce for his main course and I had pork loin with roasted potatoes. Both were outstanding as was the Chianti classico. On the way back to the hotel, we found one of the gelato places that Simonetta had recommended. So much better than the place from the night before. Oh my gosh! Our thought was to take a picture of ourselves enjoying the gelato to send to Erika for her birthday. There was no gelato left by the time we got back to the hotel so we took a picture of the empty cups instead. We each ordered two different flavors—I got Tiramisu and salted caramel and Mark got bacio (chocolate) and hazelnut. Both were delicious!

After our stroll back to the room, we both had tired feet but overall happy spirits. Always a good day when you learn something, even if it’s what NOT to do!

I think we’ll sleep well tonight.


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