From the Archives: Florence

Florence (Firenze) was immediately different from Venice. KSue and I exited the train station and were met by traffic rather than water. (Cobblestones however, became a fixture of our European journey and were a pain in our rolly-suitcases ass in every city. Next time, I’m backpacking.) Florentine air was also much warmer than Venetian. It may not have been sunny, but it was in the upper 50s as opposed to low 60s and I was very happy. I had directions to our hostel and so we walked in hopefully that direction. We weren’t really that tired, like we had been when we got to Venice or Salzburg, as the train from Venice to Florence had only taken two hours. Italy, I’ve decided, is similar in size to New Jersey.

The hostel was surprisingly easy to find with our HostelWorld directions and we were led up a narrow cobble-stoned (grrr) street lined with Vespas, scooters, and motorbikes. Looking back on our journey so far, KSue and I decided this hostel was the best overall place we have stayed. The rooms were spacious and clean; the bathroom was inside the room and not disgusting. The lockers were super-sized and a big breakfast in a cafeteria-like space was included. Plus, it was on the cheaper side. Win-win-win-win-win.

After we got settled and deposited our growing bulges of suitcases into the nice-sized lockers, we went out to explore a bit. First Florentine experience: street markets. Vendors take over a couple of blocks around the touristy areas, such as near our hostel, and set up shop hocking mostly leather-based items. I bought a purse (surprise surprise). The first day we walked through these suffocating, yet colourful sellers I was wearing my leather jacket. I was amused as the vendors tried to sell their items to me: “Beautiful lady would you like a leath- another leather jacket to go with the one you’re wearing? What about a purse? More leather!” Their prices weren’t bad. If I had more room, I probably would have bought more than a purse. But alas, that barely fit in my suitcase.

The street markets led to a plaza filled with international students on school trips taking advantage of the “warm” weather: wearing shorts and eating gelato. I joined them on the gelato front. The focal point of the plaza was the Duomo, a giant colourful cathedral, which KSue describes as a beautiful paper cut out. Of course, it is not made of paper, but different kinds of stone placed in geometric patterns to give the cathedral its unique look.

Pretty.

Pretty.

It is really beautiful, even against a grey sky. And massive. Luckily, it was also free, so KSue and I got to go inside to take a look at the art it contains.

Quick history lesson for those who don’t know/were unaware as I was: Florence was the centre of creation during the Renaissance period. It was here the Medici family threw money at the arts, commissioning some of the most famous artists of the time that we still talk about today. Of course, KSue can tell you more about this. As can John Green on Crash Course, though he gives a different view of the Renaissance.

So Florence is practically bursting with art: paintings, sculptures and the like, all (or most) from the Renaissance period. And what did they paint during the Renaissance? Mostly Jesus. Baby Jesus with Mary, full-grown Jesus performing miracles, and finally Jesus on the cross, but never Jesus in adolescence. I guess most artists didn’t find those awkward teenage years particularly attractive. Other than Jesus, portrayals of saints and scenes from the bible are also popular. One sculpture in particular drew our attention, you may have heard of it, it’s called The David and it’s by Michelangelo.

However, we passed the (long) line and decided that we’d get up early to see it the next day. We went back to our hostel and got ready to go out. There was at least one Irish pub in this town and we were going to find it.

We walked for a while, but we finally found it. And inside it? Americans. In fact, the ceiling of the pub was decorated with U.S. college and university t-shirts. (I didn’t see an AU one, but definitely GW and Georgetown.) As the night grew on, the Lion’s Fountain pub grew more and more crowded with…drum roll, please, biddies and bros. Should I have been surprised? Probably not, as the t-shirts should have given it away, but I was anyway. I was also a fair amount of grossed out. The level of trashiness was astounding by both females and males; they did not know how to dress for a pub. KSue and looked down at our outfits: jeans and a semi-nice shirt for both of us, boots for me and Converse for her. We weren’t going to get any male attention tonight with the sheer number of girls and corresponding cleavages. But we had enjoyed ourselves anyway, making fun of trashy outfits and too-high heels, drinking our pints.

The next day was The David and it was raining. We waited in line for probably an hour in the rain, but the three American girls standing in front of us entertained us. They could have been at the Lion’s Fountain the night before. All-in-all they were not that bad, but the real clincher came with this line, said in the strongest nasal valley-girl voice one can conjure:

“What’s, like, that big, like architectural–thingy in Paris called again? Oh yeah, it’s like the Arc De Triomphe or something, right?”

I think KSue and I may have laughed out right at that point. Then they started hating on London, which KSue and I vehemently defended…to ourselves. No one gets to hate on our adopted city.

But finally, we made it inside the museum. We politely looked at the other pieces of art the building held (I’m sure they’re all very beautiful and important, but after a while, Renaissance art starts to blend together), but really bee-lined for David. A nice treat was the hall leading up the masterpiece was lined with unfinished Michelangelo sculptures, originally for Pope Julius II’s tomb. (Michelangelo was interrupted by the Pope himself to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.) But finally, there was David, all 17 feet of him. Seriously, he is that tall. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but I can clearly remember just how glorious it was.

Also the Arno, the fabulous river that runs through Florence, (every major city needs a good river) could stand alone as a piece of art itself.

arno

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