Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zipping to Firenze

Despite having lived here for nearly a year, it’s still quite bizarre to Martello e Trofie Wife to be able to look at each other and say, “Hey, want to go to [insert Italian city that’s reachable within a five-hour train ride] this weekend?” With our mega-long August vacation fast approaching (and precious little of it booked), Trofie Wife felt rather indulgent being able to pull this little trick mid-week, while Martello was wrapping up his big deadline. But seeing as she’s not likely to be able to do this when we return to the States, she might as well take advantage of it while she can.

So, waving aside the guilt, Trofie Wife booked a budget hotel, hopped on three connecting trains, and found her way to Firenze (Florence) to meet up with some friends from her high school youth group (as well as their friends). Trofie Wife hadn’t seen one of the friends nor Firenze in nearly a decade (seeing as Martello was there last summer, it hasn’t been high on the weekend priority list), so the journey was doubly exciting. I sneaked through the sweaty crowd in Piazza della Signoria to find my friends and together we headed back to meet the others by the Mercato Sant'Ambrogio, where dinner was already being planned. After a yummy bruschette e pizza lunch and hotel check-in, I managed to run across town to catch the last few minutes (literally) of the synagogue and its museum's opening hours (highly guarded spaces always love a sweaty, stumbling, and stammering last-minute visitor, but seeing just how empty the tour group I joined was, I'm sure the box office appreciated the extra euros). The Firenze synagogue is quite spectacular, due to the fact that the generous endowment donor stipulated that the future building had to match the splendor of the city’s well-regarded masterpieces and houses of worship. With that mission in mind, the architects were sure to make it as un-Italian as possible, focusing on a sort of Moorish/Babylonian design (so that you can loiter in the lovely courtyard while skipping out on services; there was one such girl demonstrating this feature as she played with her Sidekick while her family took the tour). Trofie Wife can only provide external shots as photography was not permitted inside the building, and Martello was not there to surreptitiously break the rules and shoot regardless of the signage.

 Following the tour, Trofie Wife re-joined her friends and we enjoyed some excellent (and surprisingly well-valued) gelato (I did, however, take them to task for only ordering one flavor and not two) and we returned to the apartment they were renting where the master chef amongst them was whipping up a fantastic meal with the items procured earlier that day (even more impressively, using his own culinary tools, transported transcontinentally). We dined and enjoyed catching up and reminiscing, bidding farewell on the banks of the Arno as I returned to my meager lodging (actually, for a budget place booked about 10 hours before leaving, it was pretty good).

The next morning, I strolled over to Oltrarno (that would be the side of the river opposite the city center), wandered around (including stopping into the Santo Spirito church), and then crossed back over the Ponte Vecchio (the big-deal bridge here that used to host slaughter houses and now focuses on jewelry sales, go figure). I was crestfallen to learn that I could not enter the Biblioteca Nazionale just to take a look around (my residual anger, however, will not prevent me from posting pictures of the exterior of said library). 

Bridge O'Bling: there's nothing to bring foot traffic to a standstill quite like putting shiny jewels on display to mesmerize the masses. 

 Biblioteca Nazionale (otherwise known as the library that wouldn't admit me). Hint: if you're worried about the state of education in your country, maybe you should consider letting the public access the libraries!!!

Santo Spirito (the one Italian church I've entered in the height of summer where they actually made me cover my shoulders; luckily they ignored the shorts)

 Santa Maria Novella (not to be confused with the train station of the same name; I didn't have time for this church as I was headed to the station)

 I have to say that when I first visited Firenze during high school I was completely taken with its beauty. Although it was during Easter week and many of the major art galleries were closed, we got to know the streets and various landmarks, and I recall desperately wanting to return (particularly because there was this pair of shoes there that I should have bought and didn’t, and I still have wistful dreams about the experience; the lingering regret was not helped by my beloved French teacher chaperone and i genitori, who, when I returned, said that I should have splurged; and there I thought they would have appreciated my frugal nature with the newly issued credit card; I was sure to have them make up for that instance of thrift in future years).  But this visit left me with a different impression. Other than my brief sojourn to Oltrarno, Firenze just seemed overrun with and exploited by tourists. While it’s still beautiful, my initial feeling of wonder at seeing it at 17 dissipated (perhaps by returning with Martello, who always manages to find the hidden and surprising pathways around every city or small village, I will find that feeling again). After a long return journey, Trofie Wife was happy to return home to Martello so we could pack and continue planning our vacation (which started the next day!). More on that soon to come... .

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

1 comment:

Dave said...

Thanks again for making the trip, Trofie Friend! I definitely agree with you that the Piazzas were drained of much vibrancy when swarmed with fanny packs, Euromullets and cheap, flashing digital cameras. However, at about 3am that same night we split, we wandered home from the bars through Piazza della Signoria. With not a single person around, the tranquility was palpable, the statues and their lingering shadows were majestically in repose, and the pictures we took were nothing less than a personal conversation with old relics.