Saturday, April 17, 2010

You Say Firenze, I Say Florence

Florence is not only the birthplace of the Renaissance, but it is supposedly Italy’s most beautiful city.

Upon arrival the Engineer and I checked in to what can only be described as our ‘skuzzy’ hotel, in an area that was close to the train station and all the tourist things, but not exactly quaint or pretty.  We had to step around garbage bins to get out if that gives you any idea. 

I was still recovering from the bug that hit me in Venice and the rain was falling. 

Florence was therefore not winning me over.


As we walked through streets teeming with teenage tour groups from the States, my mood was not getting better.  Where was this beauty I heard about?  So far all the buildings were miss-matched and falling apart.  To me, the famous il Duomo appeared too gaudy and colourful.  And the Ponte de Vecchio was not a breathtaking bridge.

But then the sun came out.  And something changed.

The light danced on the yellow stone, making Florence literally glow and shine.  The narrow lanes became charming.  Each building was unique and bursting with both medieval and Renaissance touches.

We also had an amazing meal that I did not throw up.  Wild boar paparadelle, beef Chianti stew, fried rabbit (weird right?) and amazing tiramisu. I was happy.

The next day was a busy tourist filled one.  Starting off with a walking tour of Florence.  As this day was about to prove, tours really are hit or miss.  Luckily, our tour was a hit.

I was worried at first.  As we tried to find the address, we were plodding behind a foursome of American tourists about my parents age.  Already they were bellyaching about something annoying and I just knew if they were on our tour I would hit them.  One of the couples was those ‘saggy face’ people you see.  You know?  The people who spent their whole life frowning and complaining and now have saggy, jiggly faces.  Complete with walking sticks, bum bags, and baseball caps that read ‘I’d rather be fishing’ made me want to pinch their jiggle faces.

Mean I know.  And trust me, I have nothing against American tourists.  Truth be known, I prefer them to European ones. I know I know, I am in Europe.  Too bad it’s full of Europeans.  HA!  Just kidding.  Sort of.  Many Europeans are very pushy and rude.  Americans may be loud but at least they don’t butt in line and they apologize when they walk into you and make you fall over.

Anyways, back to the tour.

So we were waiting outside for our tour guide when one came down.  He was an older gentleman who must be British or American, I couldn’t tell.  But he spoke super slowly with lots of ‘ahs’ and ‘umms’.  He told us we would be split into two groups.

The other tour guide came down.  She was my age, from Boston, but living in Florence for nearly a decade.

Please be on her tour, please be on her tour, I said to myself.

And we were!  As we followed her down the cobble-stoned streets, the Engineer said, “I wanted the other guy”.  Seriously?  “No, I’m kidding.  He can’t even talk in coherent sentences”.

So boring tour guide took jiggly faces one way, and we happily went the other.

These are the reasons this tour was a ‘hit’:  our guide was interesting, well spoken and a vast resource of fun facts.  She pointed out tiny details about Florence that really does make it Italy’s most beautiful city.  The Engineer and I both agreed that perhaps not immediately beautiful, the fact that the city is full of treasure and interest makes in incredible.  We loved the combination of medieval architecture living next to the Renaissance.  We loved how Donetello’s sculptures dotted themselves around the town and you could see his evolution as an artist.  Michelangelo walked these very streets, virtually the same as they are today.  Except I am sure the old wool guild was not a Gap back then. 

I definitely recommend this Florence tour..  I do NOT recommend our next tour (I forget the company).

To get into the Uffizi gallery, I had to book a tour (I had no idea these galleries were busy like this!).  I was hoping for incredible insight into the art of Boticelli and his contemporaries that I would ordinarily miss.

Too bad our guide barely spoke English and was as interesting as paint drying on walls.  For two hours, we dragged ourselves through the gallery as he pointed out things that were either incomprehensible or dead boring.  He was no Elaine in Rome who made a painting come alive right before our eyes.

I turned him off when it was time for ‘The Birth of Venus’.  Lucky for me, I have been reading my Rick Steves’ Europe 101 (don’t laugh, it’s actually a very handy guide to art and history!) and I could see the similarity between Venus and Eve and the evolution of medieval art to Renaissance.  It was beautiful.

Too bad our guide was there.  The only truly exciting times were when he stopped talking (which was a whisper that was hard to hear) to bellow at teenage boys:  “SHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  STOP TALKING!  You are in a museum!”  He scared the crap out of us!

I promised the Engineer I would not force him on any more walking tours. 

Our stay was short, but sweet.  And I was able to leave Firenze knowing that it was indeed, an interesting and special place.

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