Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance

Our flat in Florence lies in the shadows of the more posh Westin Excelsior, close by the Savoy. We are the poor cousins, but this place is great...a tiny one-room affair with a little balcony overlooking the street. Everything is within walking distance.
                                         Our little balcony (with Westin across the street)
All seemed perfect until we realized the first night that there is a very bright light on the side of the Westin that illuminates the whole street and shines directly into our window. Despite curtains, the room was still very light, making sleep difficult. To add to our misery, we were serenaded by  recycling trucks that work at night. The recycling bins here are state-of-the-art. The small bins on the street are connected to large containers under the sidewalk. At about 3am the truck arrives with a crab-like mechanism that lifts the entire metal plate up off the street. The bin under the street is then swung over the back of the truck and dumped. Imagine the noise made by hundreds of empty wine bottles from a large hotel.  That is then followed by screaming sirens all night long as ambulances race up and down the street. Add to that the partiers at the local outdoor restaurants and it makes for less than a blissful night's sleep. At 7 am all the bells in Florence peel to greet the day, creating quite a beautiful cacophony of sound. For our next night, using a little ingenuity, we shut all the windows (thank goodness it is cool here), hung blankets over the windows, and I wore earplugs. It worked! Last night allowed for a better rest and today we were ready to begin a day of walking the Florence streets.
Florence takes your breath away with its Romanesque beauty. This is where the Renaissance started and you feel it everywhere. There seems to be a church or palace at every corner. There are many other people visiting the city. I wonder what it is like in high season. The streets are jam-packed now in May. We realize that there is only so much you can see and retain. Just strolling through the streets and soaking in the sights may have to be enough. Line ups to get into the Duomo on our first day were discouraging so we listened to our audio guide and moved on.
                                                             Crowds outside the Duomo
Today began with getting in line early to allow us a good view of Michelangelo's David. Despite all the hype, I have to admit that he truly is impressive. And waiting in  line sipping espresso and eating sweet croissant,  provided us with another anecdote, although an unpleasant one for the victim. Here's how it went: as we were herded into line outside the museum, a little car driving down the narrow street we were on, squeezed a little too close to the museum attendant. We heard a cry, and saw the young man grab his leg, hobbling on one foot and yelling at the car. Cameras flashed as people in line took photos of the car before the driver could try to escape. Pierre says he heard a crack before the guy yelled and is convinced his leg was broken. With all the witnesses, the driver could not do anything but pull his car over and wait for the "polizia". What bad luck!
After our visit with David, an amazing sculpture of the perfect male, carved from a huge slab of marble into an incredibly real human body, we trudged back to the Duomo, escaping the rain on our way by stopping into other more obscure museums. This time we were able to climb to the top of the Duomo bell tower to get a view of all of Florence and surrounding area. This is quite a strenuous climb even for the fittest. There are many steps and they are narrow and winding, dating from about the 13th century. People of all shapes and sizes attempt it, making it a slow climb up and an even slower descent. Meeting in the winding spiral stairways is especially difficult if the person is more than a little wide. Our question was what happens if a person feels unwell once at the top. This was answered when we exited the tower where three ambulances were parked, probably ready for any eventuality. Don't ask how they could actually get a stretcher up the stairs. I kept thinking of the bell ringers over the hundreds of years who have climbed up and down the stairs many times a day to ring the bells.
Wanting to try the typical Florentine treat, we headed for a trippai, or vendor of tripe( as in the cow's fourth stomach, not as in tripe meaning nonsense or junk). The tripe is slow cooked, a sauce added and then it is all wrapped in a crusty bun.  It sounds terrible but is actually delicious, tasting a lot like slow cooked veal/osso buco. This is a popular street food here and is highly recommended.

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