Florence – Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance

June 3rd, and we wake up this morning in Livorno, Italy.  We are about an hour away from Florence, and we have booked another full day tour.  We are on our way to Florence by 7:30 AM after a quick breakfast at the buffet.  Our tour guide today is Ignazio, who will explain that he suffers from weather related depression.  I don’t know what we’re in for, and pray along the way that Ignazio does not commit suicide in the front of the bus.

The first thing Ignazio does is has our bus driver take us to the top of a very high hill in Florence.  He’s going to jump!!!   Oh, no, there’s a fake David statue there that he wants us to see, and this is also a very scenic overlook of the entire city of Florence.  I gotta tell you, the ride up the hill was fantastic – the homes and hotels are gorgeous.  But overlooking the whole city – well, not so much fantastic as similar to most other busy cities you might be looking at.  There’s no bright blue dots of rooftops like in Santorini and there is way more industrial looking areas than in Dubrovnik.  It’s a nice view, but nothing special.

We head to the museum, Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno  where we are scheduled at 10:30 to see the real statue of David, but there is some confusion when we get there.  We have tickets, but we are standing quite still in line.  People who are in groups are supposed to be where we are, people who are not in groups are not supposed to be here.  Apparently, there is no clear direction of that fact to anyone, anywhere.  Additionally, people without timed tickets are butting in line with the groups, trying to get in earlier.  Well, Ignazio calls us all up to come and go in, and he just about gets into a fist fight with a guy who has been standing and waiting and wants to go in first.  Thanks to his weather related depression disorder, Ignazio is apparently not afraid to die by fighting in the street with this tough looking and MUCH bigger man, and by standing up to this guy, the guy backs down and Ignzaio escorts us into the museum.  Whew.

We are all wearing those whisper devices now, as Ignazio handed them out to us on the bus.  These enable us to hear him, even though the museum is crowded and noisy.  We wear the headphones in our ears, and Ignazio speaks into his headset, enabling us to listen to his description of this amazing statue.  You can see veins and muscles and I am just blown away at the attention to detail.  Even more beautiful to me are the unfinished “Slaves” that we pass on our way back to see David.  Michelangelo believed that his works of art were hiding in the blocks of marble, and it was his job to “dig them out” basically.  Well, the Slaves – five unfinished works of Michelangelo – really show how he did this.  They truly look like people emerging from these giant blocks of marble.  Just amazing. 

Our tour leaves the museum, and we head on foot to a tour of the city.  We get the warning we have gotten in most of the cities – keep your purse close, your back pockets empty, your bags near you.  We go first to Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore , known as Duomo.  It was designed by Brunelleschi, and this is where he is entombed.  The dome, which is the most famous part of the Cathedral, was built entirely without scaffolding, and it is amazing to see and hear the explanation of how it was built.  Across the way from the cathedral, we get a glimpse of the Gates of Paradise.  In 1405, the pope commissioned sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to create the north doors of the Church of St. John the Baptist.  Ghiberti had previously created other doors for the baptistery, and his work was very highly regarded.  It took 27 years for Ghiberti and his team to complete the doors, and when he saw them, Michelangelo allegedly said that the doors were beautiful enough to be the “Gates of Paradise”, which is what they are now called.  They are panels, each depicting a story from the Bible, and they are so beautiful.  You can’t get very close to them, as a throng of people are standing there trying to see them, but you could certainly picture the angels and saints walking right through the doors into the welcoming arms of The Father. 

We take another short walk to the Ponte Vecchio.  This is basically just a bridge, but the area is filled with shops of every kind, tourists from every country, pickpockets of every denomination.  The bridge spans the Arno River, and it is here they say the term “bankrupt” originated.  Back in the day, the merchants sold their wares from wooden tables.  If a merchant could not pay their debts, the soldiers would come and physically break the wooden tables so the merchant was no longer able to pedal their merchandise.  It Italian, the phrase for this was “Bancorotto”, or “Broken Bank”.  If they are depending on Brighid and I, these merchants will surely know the meaning of Bancorotto, because we save our pennies and our big expenditure here is post cards and a magnet for Dot. 

We meet up after a few minutes of free time and we head to lunch.  The lunch they put out is spectacular – a large piece of vegetable and cheese lasagna, a plate of roast beef with potatoes and vegetables, and a delicious gelato.  Following lunch, we walk out to the square in front of Santa Croce cathedral, and we are given about 2 hours of free time.  This is way too much for people like Brighid and I, who will pick up a t-shirt or two, a small souvenir for Eilis and Granuaile, and be on our merry way to see something important.  We pick up a t-shirt for Mirabella, who’s birthday Brighid is missing during our trip, and we wander in and out of a few other shops.  The leather shop people go nuts over my leather bag that Jim bought me at the Maryland Renaissance Faire last summer, and I can’t wait to go back and tell the guy that his bag is all the rage among the Firenze elite. 

The rest of the shops are the same as they seem to be everywhere we go – leather goods, watches, jewelry, and the tacky t-shirt/cheap souvenir shops.  We end up sitting on a bench, watching the people in the square.  There are several artists, painting various scenes of Tuscany – lots of sunflowers! – and there is a puppet show going on in the middle of the square.  When Ignazio comes back, someone asks him if this is where the real citizens of Florence shop.  The answer to this is a resounding “NO”.  Now I believe Ignazio is hoping to commit suicide by being pelted to death by designer jewelry purchased by foolish and angry American tourists at these overpriced shops in Florence.  Fortunately, the sun is now shining pretty brightly, so I think Ignazio is out of the woods for today.

We are all gathered together, after a bit of a delay because a couple of our group wandered out of the square and got lost.  We head into the Cathedral of Santa Croce, which on it’s own is just stunning.  There are some 500 tombs and monuments in the Church, and we focus on only four.  We manage to squeeze in to see the tomb of Michelangelo – which is an amazing work of art in and of itself.  We also get up close to the tombs of Galileo and Machiavelli.  The fourth tomb that Ignazio highlights is of an Italian opera singer, although also here are the tombs of Ghiberti, Marconi, and a monument in honor of Dante.  We walk the grounds and admire some of the architecture and this is a really beautiful place to be.

We had seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa on our trip out to Florence this morning, but we do not have a good enough angle from the bus on the way back to the ship.  This has been another long day, and we are back on the ship with just enough time to change for dinner.  We’re exhausted, but the show tonight is Adrian Walsh, and Irish comedian that Brighid does not want to miss.  He really is quite funny, and we enjoy the show tremendously, but now, it’s really time for bed!