Untours Cafe

Rome, Tuscany, and Florence in 2011 - part 7 - The end of a lovely trip.


Saturday - September 10


Today we are off to Florence.  We got to the car rental place in Chiusi without any problems and turned in the car.  The manager gave us a ride to the train station and we settled in for about a 45 minute wait.  We hadn't eaten breakfast so we had some apple croissants and ice tea for me and cappuccino for Dick.  The train left at 10:00 A.M. and it was about an hour and 20 minute ride.  We had bought our tickets before leaving home, but didn't realize that Florence had more then one train station.  We picked the wrong one, but it still wasn't too far by taxi.  However, finding the taxi stand was not easy.  You'd think there would be signs, but you would be wrong. After getting off the train we entered a tunnel that went both ways, but there was no sign as to which way was the main exit.  We went the wrong way.  We hauled the bags trough the tunnel then up a ramp to the outside.  That's when we realized there were obviously two exits and we were on the wrong side of the station.  We walked down the sidewalk for quite a distance before we found steps (no ramp) that went back down.  Then we went through another tunnel (under the tracks) and up steps (no ramp) before emerging to a taxi stand.  Yeah!


The taxi took us to our hotel, Hotel Axial, and I must say it was an excellent location. We were only a block and a half away from the Duomo and the Baptistery and definitely within walking distance of all the other main sights. The hotel is small and the room was small, but certainly adequate.  We got organized and then went to their "garden room" where we had a coke and checked emails.  Now we were ready to explore Florence. 


First up was the Duomo.  We didn't go in yet, there was quite a crowd, but we did marvel at the outside.  The façade is from the 1870s and is covered with pink, green, and white Tuscan marble.





















Thinking the line into the Duomo would get shorter later in the day, we decided to go next to the Baptistery.


The doors into the Baptistery are beautiful, but the inside is awesome.




















Dick's camera took a pretty good picture of the extraordinary ceiling.







They do have a few seats inside and we sat down and craned our necks for quite some time looking at all the intricate artwork that lined the ceiling and walls.













After this we decided lunch was in order so we went to a nearby cafeteria.  Cafeterias are not really my choice of places to eat, but this was close and the food looked good.  We shared a couple of things and had some iced tea before heading back to the Duomo.  The line wasn't too long and it moved quickly.  I found it interesting, though, that the lady in front of me was stopped by an attendant and he was telling her to cover up her shoulders.  She didn't seem to be understanding him or was arguing with him (neither was speaking English) and their discussion lasted for quite awhile.  I was both fascinated by this exchange and annoyed by her ignorance of church practice.  While I know this is a rule, I had never really seen anyone stopped and challenged.  She eventually agreed and we all were allowed to move on.


Inside the church is large, but not really as impressive as the church in Siena. Much of their artwork is located in the museum located behind the church.  They had a very interesting basement level containing the remains of the 4th century church of Santa Reparata, which was demolished in1296 to make room for the cathedral. There are many artifacts and even a small charming chapel.



In case you hadn't noticed, we did not climb the 463 steps to the top of the dome in the church.  I'm sure it is an outstanding view, but climbing those stairs is just not something we're into.


Upon leaving the church we moved on to the Duomo Museum where they had some lovely statues including Michelangelo's Pieta.                                                        





Also in the museum were Brunelleschi's models for the Duomo's dome and Ghiberti's original "Gates of Paradise" panels, as the ones currently on the Baptistery's doors are copies.












After touring this museum we walked back to the hotel for some well deserved rest and relaxation.  About 8:00 P.M. we started out to find a restaurant for dinner.  We found ourselves only a block away from Piazza della Repubblica, one of the large squares in the city.  It was loaded with places to eat and for tonight we chose Grilli Bar via Roma.  We shared lemon chicken breast, risotto and sautéed spinach.  Wine and tiramisu completed the meal.  Interestingly the meal cost as much as it had last night when we bought dinner for four.  That's what happens when you eat on the square. 


The square was lively.  There were lots of people walking around and one of the restaurants had some live music.  In the square was a trio of musicians who were playing jazz.  They were really pretty good and I would have bought a CD, but didn't have cash with me at the time. We listened to them for awhile and then walked on down a side street.  Here we came upon a mime who was dressed as Charlie Chaplin.  He was just beginning his show.  It was amazing to watch how he worked the crowd.  His show lasted about 30-45 minutes and he got several people from the audience to participate including a couple of children.  He did all this simply by blowing his whistle and pointing.  The show was very funny and the antics of the people added to the fun.  Obviously, some people get into the act more then others, but it was interesting how he seemed to know just who would join in the comedy of the act.  If you go to Florence try to find Charlie.  It's well worth your time.  We got back to the hotel about 10:30 P.M. and hit the sack.


Sunday - September 11


The hotel had a nice breakfast included with our room.  We had emailed the hotel from home and asked them to make reservations for us for both Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery, which they had done.  Reservations for the Accademia were this morning so after breakfast we began the 15 minute walk there. 


Along the way we came upon people who were setting up for flower and plant sales, right on the street.  The displays were really very pretty.  I actually had a better picture of the flowers, but realized when I got home that some lady was bending over right in the middle of the shot and her fanny was prominently displayed.  Cropping her out would have defeated the purpose and I don't think anyone else would have appreciated the shot.














We found the Accademia without any problem, but the line was long and slow moving - even the "reserved" line.  Once inside the museum, though, there was no problem.  Michelangelo's "David" is clearly the star of this show and I understand the Renaissance-style dome, where he is displayed, was built just for him. Michelangelo was just 27 years old when he carved this massive 17 foot tall masterpiece in 1501. Originally the statue was designed to stand on the roofline of the Duomo, but was placed at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio (where a copy stands today).  In the 19th century it was moved inside for protection. It is absolutely impressive and you cannot go away without wondering how anyone could achieve this feat. You can walk around all sides of it, but you cannot take pictures.  However, pictures appeared to be ok in other areas of the museum.


Also in the museum was an extensive collection of plaster models done by sculptor, Lorenzo Bartolini, 1777-1850.  I believe this may have been a special exhibit, but I'm not sure.  In any case, I really enjoyed his work.  Some of his commissioners included Napoleon and the Bonaparte family. 


In addition, the museum also had an exhibit of old musical instruments that we found very interesting.  This is a combination piano and a guitar.  I wonder what it sounds like when it is played.


















After leaving the museum we wandered the streets a bit and browsed in some shops.  We then found a restaurant close to the Duomo where we had steak sandwiches with fries and a beer for Dick and a coke for me.  I went back to the hotel then, but Dick went on to explore some more.  He's in the market for a leather coat. 


We went out again about 8:00 P.M. in search of a restaurant that an Untours Café person, Mary Lou Grier, had recommended.  She said she had gone there often and was friends with the manager, Franco. The name of the restaurant is Porcospino or in English, The Porcupine.  We found it, found Franco, and he remembered Mary Lou from Texas.  He promised to take care of us and we let him choose our meal.  We started with bruschetta. I was served a plate of three pastas (gnocchi in pesto sauce, rigatoni in red sauce and ravioli in white sauce) and Dick was served a steak with roasted potatoes. Of course, we shared it all and included wine.  For dessert we had some kind of a berry tart and finished it all off with limoncello and coffee for Dick.  It was very good.  Thanks, Mary Lou.


After dinner we wandered the streets a bit and then I went back to the hotel, but Dick went in search of Charlie Chaplin again.  The show was over, though, and Charlie was just packing up. 


Monday - September 12


After breakfast this morning we went to the Medici-Riccardi Palace.  The Medici family originally owned this palace in 1444, but in the 1700s it became occupied by the Riccardi family. 


They added Baroque features such as the library with its frescoed ceiling and mirrored walls.
















The courtyard was lovely and peaceful. 

This was certainly a grand place to live if you were

an aristocrat.

















After this we went to the Medici Chapels. The ground floor had gold and gemstone treasures, but upstairs was the most impressive for me.  A large domed rotunda area was surrounded by huge statues and sarcophagi for the ruling members of this family.  They were set very high on the walls and you have to wonder how they ever got them in there.  It was quite something.  I know I took pictures, but none of them must have turned out and I must have deleted all of them, because I have no pictures.  I guess that's what memories are for. In another area there were several Michelangelo statues of a couple of the Medici brothers.  Michelangelo was the Medici family sculptor for several years.


From here we walked to the Mercato Centrale or the Central Market, a giant glass covered market area.  We wandered the aisles and took in many of the sights of food stalls.  Dick got a German knockwurst sandwich and got me a pork sandwich.  However, as I was picking through the meat in this sandwich I came across skin with hair on it.  That did it for me, lunch was over.


The stalls of the San Lorenzo Market are close by and Dick had found a leather store the other day with coats he liked.  We talked with the salesman for some time trying to come to an agreed price on a particular coat.  The activity of bargaining is not one we from the U.S. are used to, but we managed to bring the price down several hundred euros.  Of course, every time Dick would say "Well, we'll think about it and come back tomorrow," the price got lower. It's a nice coat, but I'm sure the dealer still made money.  Feeling proud of our purchase we celebrated with a gelato on our way back to the hotel. 


After cooling off and resting our feet awhile we headed out again to walk the streets of Florence.  We walked to the Piazza della Signoria where many statues and the copy of David reside in front of Palazzo Vecchio.

























We did not go into the Palazzo Vecchio, but did go in the free courtyard where you get the essence of this grand palace. 




After admiring the palace and all of the statues in the Piazza we walked on past the Uffizi Gallery towards the river and then alongside of it towards the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.


















The bridge is lined on both sides with jewelry stores.  Most of the jewelry is very expensive and frankly not to my taste.  I did, however, find a few things that were reasonably priced for our daughters and granddaughters.  And, yes, I did find something for myself also.  After all, Dick did get that leather coat.

















We got back to the hotel about 6:00 P.M. and relaxed for a couple hours before going out for dinner.  The restaurant Dick had in mind was full until10:00 P.M., so we kept moving ending up back at Piazza della Repubblica. Tonight we chose the Il Fiorino D' Oro Restaurant. The jazz trio was playing nearby so we had pleasant dinner music.  For dinner we shared a spinach salad with oranges, cheese and sesame seeds, dressed with olive oil. The main courses were lamb chops and spaghetti with clams, which we shared. Dessert was crème with amaretto.  We had wine with dinner and finished with limoncello.  I am beginning to like this limoncello.


We walked back to the hotel via Charlie Chaplin and stopped again.  It was the same act, with different participants and Dick laughed just as hard as he did the first time.  Unfortunately, I once again, did not have a camera with me.  I lug it around all day, and it is nice not to have it in the evening; but, sometimes, like tonight, I really wish I had it along. We got back to the hotel around 10:30 P.M.


Tuesday - September 13


After breakfast today we were off to the Uffizi Gallery.  They certainly have a marvelous collection of art here.  I was especially looking forward to seeing Birth of Venus and Primavera by Botticelli.  I was very disappointed, however, to find the room in which they were displayed to be very dark and the crowds of people made it almost impossible to properly view them. We spent a couple hours here admiring many of the rooms filled with paintings that were collected by the very wealthy Medici family.


We left the gallery about 12:30 and walked back over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The street was very difficult to navigate as there must have been a lot of tour groups and the crush of people was uncomfortable, to say the least.  We found a little pizza restaurant on the other side which was very pleasant.  Their outdoor seating was full, but a table inside was available.  We shared a salad and a ham/cheese pizza and an excellent dessert that was like a chocolate puff with cream inside with whipped cream and chocolate sauce drizzled over the top. It was truly yummy! Our respective beer and coke accompanied our meal.


After lunch we went on to the Palazzo Pitti.  This palace was originally built in 1457 for the banker, Luca Pitti; but, its huge scale was developed by the Medici family a century later.  In 1550 it became the main Medici residence.  With the end of the Medici dynasty the Dukes of Lorraine succeeded them and added even more wings. The result is an extremely large building that houses several museums. The front of this palace is not exactly what I would call attractive, but the gardens in the back were lovely from what I could see. 


We bought the ticket that only included the Palatine Gallery and the Royal Apartments. At first I was disappointed that Dick had not gotten the entire combo ticket, but soon discovered that I really did not have the energy to view its other museums and the gardens.  As it was, the rooms are simply dripping with paintings from floor to ceiling. There are approximately 1,000 paintings here displaying a vast collection of 16th and 17th century European paintings. The ceilings were painted with frescos by Cortona during the years 1651-1657 and depict stories of Roman mythology. Even the fancy moldings were outstanding and eye-catching.  English signage was limited, though, so you weren't always sure of what you were looking at. By 4:00 P.M. we had had our fill of art and began the walk back to the hotel.


Dick had wanted to go to the opera tonight; The Barber of Seville was playing.  However, we have an early morning flight and I was not going to attempt that.  After returning to the hotel we packed up what we could and Dick checked with the front desk about having a taxi come for us.  They also checked our flight availabilities and showed him how to get out of the locked door as there would not be an attendant there when we left.  Feeling pretty organized we relaxed a bit before heading out for dinner.  This time we went to a little restaurant around the corner, but I don't have the name of it.  We shared a bruschetta, one last time. Following that we shared ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese in a black truffle sauce (excellent) and roast beef, sliced rare with roasted potatoes and spinach, (also excellent).  For dessert we had cheesecake with berries.


After dinner I went back to Repubblica Piazza to see if I could find the jazz trio and buy a CD, but they weren't there.  Dick went back to see Charlie Chaplin one last time.  When I couldn't find the musicians I walked over to find Dick and tell him I was going back to the hotel.  Charlie is fun, but twice was enough for me.  Back at the hotel I could actually hear Charlie's whistle directing the fun. 


Wednesday - September 14


The alarm went off at 4:00 A.M. and the taxi arrived at 5.  For those of you who know me, these early hours are not to my liking; but, you do what you have to do. We arrived at the airport in about 30 minutes and first checked in, getting rid of the big bags.  Then we went in search of breakfast.  The little airport only seemed to have one place and it did not open until 6.  When it did open it wasn't worth much, but there was something in our tummies.  Going through security was quick.  We didn't have to take off our shoes and I don't think they even gave Dick a pat down.  He can't go through the X-Ray machines because of his pacemaker/defibulator so he usually gets a thorough pat down.  Our flight to Rome was only about 45 minutes, but then we had to wait a couple hours in the Rome airport.  The waiting area was very crowded and the plane was almost 45 minutes late in loading.  The flight back to Chicago was uneventful (the best kind).


We say to all our Italian friends, arrivederci. We'll be back.




Besides the wonderful food, wine and scenery, I have to say that the best part of traveling is meeting and talking to so many different people from so many different places.  We will, of course, always remember Alex and Ingrid; but, shorter encounters like the family from Venezuela, the young family from Switzerland who were temporarily living in Dubai, the young couples on the trains we chatted with, the waitress in our favorite Tuscan restaurant, people from Holland, Australia, Canada and the U.S. that we struck up conversations with, will forever be a part of our Italian trip memories.  I'm so impressed with the young people especially, who are out traveling and taking chances with their lives.  I would have never have had the courage to do these things when I was their ages, but they will be so enriched by their experiences.  They will also never know how they have enriched our lives.










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