September 20, 2012

Florence - The Birth of the Renaissance

On Monday afternoon, we were once again aboard a fast-moving train from Bologna to Florence. The trip was a short 40 minute ride.

We had arranged to meet the owner of our Florence apartment rental OUTSIDE the Florence train station. After waiting for almost 45 minutes, walking around with a make-shift "TOLY" sign, we started to panic a bit. I've read stories about fellow travelers who respond to vacation rental ads on various sites and after submitting deposits, get swindled as there is often NO apartment to rent or the transaction somehow goes awry. In all of our various vacation rental scenarios, we've been very lucky in that all of our transactions have been smooth (and we've been very pleased with all of our rentals).

I fumble around in all of my travel paperwork and realize that I only have the email address of the owner -- no phone number. I quickly turn my cellular data ON for my iPhone and send a quick email to the owner indicating that we had arrived and were waiting outside. Hopefully this small data transaction won't end up costing me too much money -- I think the international data rate that AT&T bills is something like $19.00 per MB or something absurd like that. Anyway, back to the story.

Thankfully, within about 5 minutes of sending my email message, the owner, Catarina, shows up. Apparently she thought we were meeting at the end of the train platform, not outside the station, but I stand by my instructions to WAIT OUTSIDE.

The apartment is a short 5-minute walk from the train station and located almost across the street from the Medici Chapels. The location is terrific; right in a lively neighborhood filled with restaurants and shops and a large indoor/outdoor market. It's also located directly across from the neighborhood garbage bins; not a bad thing at 4:00 PM, but come midnight when the nearby restaurants are dropping their glass bottles in the chute and the garbage trucks arrive to empty (which they do several times a day) it can be VERY noisy. We're also in a lively square with lots of merriment going on until the wee hours of the morning. Honestly, the first night, this was kind of bothersome and kept me awake, but I've gotten used to the noise now and I go right to sleep.

Back to the apartment. It's really LARGE. We have 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, a large lounge with separate dining room. The bedroom Dad and Joan are using features a beautiful antique four-poster bed. The rooms have 18' ceilings with wood beams and are spacious. The entire apartment is tiled in beautiful marble. The kitchen is large and modern, however, is poorly equipped for cooking. I'm guessing that many of the temporary tenants here do not actually cook meals while staying here. So that's been a bit of a challenge, but who cares if the salad with dinner is served in a wok? We rented this apartment for 4 nights for 950 Euros. This comes out to 47,7 Euros per night, per person. Not bad, right? I should be a travel agent. Here's the link to the apartment on VRBO.

After settling in, getting some grocery shopping done and making dinner (our delicious tortellini from Bologna), it was time to get some work done. So that was pretty much a wrap on our day.

Tuesday morning, we made the most of the bright sunny day by touring Florence via "hop on, hop off" tourist bus. It's a nice way to see the various sights, but doesn't make for very good pictures as we're zooming past things too fast to really snap a good photo, but hopefully we'll have time to return to some of these historic spots later in our trip.

We had a 1:30 reservation at the Uffizi Gallery, so we headed over to the Palazzo Vecchio area to wander around Pallazo della Signoria and grab some lunch before our scheduled entry time.


I thought this bronze statue, c.1545 of Perseus with the Head of Medusa was pretty interesting.

Built in 1299, the Palazzo Vecchio (old palace) is the town hall of Florence. Although most of the Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum, it remains the symbol of local government: since 1872 it has housed the office of the mayor of Florence, and it is the seat of the City Council.

It was nearing the time for our visit to the Uffizi, so we found a quick "cafeteria" lunch spot for some fortification. I'm getting used to having either a Spritz (Prosecco cocktail with Aperol) or a mini bottle of Prosecco with my lunch. Obviously this trend will not continue once I return home. My guess is that however delicious the Prosecco is, it won't pair very nicely with most of my Lean Cuisine's.

The Uffizi is one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. Many of the art collections contained in the Uffizi originally belonged to the influential Medici family (by "influential" I mean, "mafia") and were donated to the citizens of Florence by Anna Medici, the last Medici heiress. The gallery had been open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century, and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public.

The gallery rooms inside the Uffizi were very crowded, so it was difficult to catch even a glimpse of some of the more famous pieces. Naturally my Dad was looking for the gallery with the "cars" and since we only going to be looking at mostly Renaissance-era art, he was pretty much done with the visit in the first 5 minutes. In hindsight, I wish I had hired a guide for this museum. With so much to see and crowds to navigate through, I felt we just walked through a maze and saw some "nice paintings" but I didn't really know WHAT I was looking at. So if I ever return to Florence, I will exercise a "mulligan" and visit the Uffizi with a more knowledgeable guide. Here are some of the more famous art pieces we did see:

The Annunciation, by Leonardi da Vinci, c.1472
Doni Tondo, by Michelangelo, c.1507

The Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli, c.1469

After our visit, we hopped back on our bus and saw a few more sights of Florence before returning to our apartment.

For dinner that evening, we ate at a small Trattoria in our neighborhood called "Trattoria Il Porscopino" and so far, this has been our best meal of the trip.Our server joked around with us the moment we arrived and after a brief discussion of the Seahawks and the Oregon Ducks, he asked us what we wanted to eat and Sean, April and I all say "Pasta" at about the same time. Sean then adds, "I want Pasta with meat sauce" to which he replied "Meat sauce?! This isn't Olive Garden!" He then suggests that we just close the menu and he will bring all of us the specialties of the house. So we did, and honestly, we were just a bit afraid as we didn't want this "special treatment" to come with a "special price." The food was lovely. We started with some bruschetta and fried zucchini blossoms, which paired nicely with the bottle of Chianti he brought. For our pasta dishes, we had 3 different kinds on our plate: a beautiful large "tortelloni" filled with some kind of cheese (maybe a mixture of Ricotta and something else?) with a light butter-inspired sauce; a penne pasta with a meat/cheese sauce and spinach gnocchi. Dad had a "Florentine" steak which was topped with a cheese sauce. The steak was delicious, as were all of our dishes. Most importantly, the meal was reasonable; including the wine, it was 148 Euros for all of us. Not bad! I highly recommend this place.

You can view our Florence - Day 1 pictures on Shutterfly.


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