MAD TRAVEL home
Saturday, 12.4.04: The Week in Review (Italy, Week 2)
This is merely itinerary, with a few comments. Related essays are
evolving and will be listed in the right column.
Saturday. Restless night but
all goes smoothly getting to the train station. Taxi ride only
€10, so now we're positive we were ripped off by the first taxi driver.
At the train station, a "customer care" person helps us figure out that
we have assigned seats on an assigned car. That makes it easy. Our seats
face each other and we're in the midst of a group of chatty Italian
women on holiday. Suddenly, as we arrive in Florence. In the momentary
confusion of disembarking, I leave my purse on the train. Panic.
I run back and find it.
Hotel Cellai is not as
gold-and-glass as the Barberini, but it has the charm of a family
operation, with your Italian grandmother's flowered furniture decorating
the common rooms. Our stamina is improving. We went out immediately for
a delicious lunch at Semidivino, then on to sight-seeing.
San Marco Museum: An old Dominican monastery, full of the work
of Fra Angelico, one of the great painters of the 15th century.
Nearly all the dormitory cells have frescoes done by him on the
various mysteries of the rosary. Savonarola lived here -- more on
dell'Accademia: This museum is full of beautiful 15th century
paintings by the students of Giotto, but the main attraction is
Michelangelo's statue of David. There is a copy on the main square,
but this is the original. This marble turned
into man is literally breathtaking. (And the pictures never show his
- Sore feet! Stopped at a "bar" to buy bottles of wine and apple
- Dinner at a large spaghetteria close to the hotel.
Sunday. Today, the Uffizi. We've been congratulating ourselves
on a season with no lines. To our horror, we had to stand outdoors in
the chill for
an hour,. Apparently they only let in so many at
a time to avoid crowding and give everyone a good museum
experience. On line, we talked with a worldly Englishwoman, who
gave us a heads-up about the general strike scheduled for Tuesday.
- Uffizi Gallery. This is
basically the collection of the Medici family, accumulated till the
last one died in the 18th century. We spent about 3-1/2 hours. When
we couldn't walk another step, we found ourselves at the restaurant
and regenerated with pasta.
- Self-portrait show: In the basement of the gallery was a
temporary exhibit of self-portraits of artist from all ages and
places. It was fascinating and a great way to "cleanse our palate"
from gorging on the Renaissance.
Ponte Vecchio. A 14th c. bridge over the Arno. The only one not
destroyed by the Nazis at the end of WWII. Nice to look at from a
distance. Full of uninteresting shops up close.
Vecchio. I was brain dead and bleary-eyed by the time we dragged
ourselves through this one. Too many battle scenes. Give me the
religious art I understand.
We had figured out the Metro system in Rome, but Florence has big
mysterious buses and a scarcity of taxis. The city was crowded due to a big marathon in the morning.
shoppers in the toniest possible shops. Most of the streets, we finally
realize, are closed to traffic altogether. We drag along not making much
progress, till Jim spies an off-duty taxi. Our desperate faces convince
her to take us to our hotel.
Monday. We bravely launch ourselves
back into the museum circuit. Our legs are gaining endurance, but
my only walking shoes have decided to play havoc with that bony
protuberance between my ankle bone and arch. Ow, ow, ow, ow, with every
footstep. I swallow some ibuprofen and carry on.
Bargello Museum. The place for mind-boggling sculpture --
Michelangelo, Donatello, etc.
- Duomo Museum. The
Cathedral) di Santa Maria Del Fiore is the religious focal point
of Florence. It was built over centuries, with contributions by the
best of the Renaissance and Baroque artisans. Many of the most
precious creations have been removed to the museum for safekeeping
and better viewing.
- Battistero (Baptistry) San Giovanni. Separate from the
cathedral, with a gorgeous gold mosaic dome.
- Lunch, with too much Chianti. I keep ordering 1/2 a carafe when
1/4 will do fine for my solo drinking.
- Giotto's Bell Tower. I don't know what we thought this was going
to be, but it turned out to be basically 414 steps. Every time we
made it to one platform, we found another set of winding concrete
steps. But the reward is a gorgeous view of Florence rooftops and a
close-up of the dome of the Duomo.
- Duomo. The Cathedral itself was surprisingly empty and quiet
after all the drama of its exterior and the other buildings.
Underneath the church is the crypt of Santa Reparata -- remnants of
a more ancient church.
Our slow walk home revealed more of the earthly Florence -- miles of
boutiques featuring Italy's finest designers.
Tuesday. Today there is a
general strike in Italy. All the public works are shut down in protest
over wages and job losses with Italy's "modernization." Museums are
closed, but of course, there are always more churches to see.
Pitti. Feeds our endless appetite for Renaissance era painting.
This is not as orderly as a museum. The vast collection is jumbled , high and low, so that you are suddenly surprised
by one of the great ones -- Rafael, Rubens, Titian. So much of this
collection has been endlessly reproduced in art books and calendars,
that we thrilled to see the originals.
- We browsed the "antiques" street, but after the Palazzo,
everything looks cheesy.
- After lunch, a walk in the rain along the Arno River, then
across to the
Santa Croce. Another enormous cathedral. Main feature: tombs of
Michelangelo, Dante, Galilleo, Rossini and other Italian geniuses.
Thursday. Train to Venice --
crowded. We cross the Appennines through lots of tunnels. The landscape
is winter muted. Somehow we got off the train a stop too early. It
didn't seem right when only a few others got off and we were supposed to
be at the end of the line. Luckily, we realized our mistake in time and
hopped back on. We arrived at Venice about 1:30 and walked down to the
vaporetto (water bus) stop on the Grand Canal. We had thought #82
would take us to our hotel, but after some inept mutterings with the
ticket guy, he pointed us to #1.
- Grand Canal: Venice's Main Street. In the drizzle and chill, we
were fascinated by how the buildings were both beautiful and
decayed, many of the first floors abandoned to the tides.
Palazzo Sant'Angelo: After micro-rooms in Rome and Florence, we
are thrilled with a massive 2-room suite and grand bathroom with
whirlpool tub. I crack open a small bottle of French champagne from
- After cheese and crackers from our cache, we venture out to the
Gallerie dell'Accademia. More paintings, but with a distinctive
- We wander back through a disorienting maze of streets.
Restaurants don't open for dinner till 7:00, so we go back to the
hotel for a breather, then out again.
Friday. Many, many miles on our
feet today. Venice is so fascinating we don't mind.
- Hotel provides us with a water taxi ride over to the island of
Murano. The same families have
been making glass there for more than 2000 years. We watch the
glass blowers, visit the museum, and shop the endless glass gift
- We figure out which vaporetto to take us back to Venice.
We walk from the north coast, through the city to the Grand Canal, see
the famous Rialto bridge, then get thoroughly lost. It's cold! I buy
- Finally reoriented, we grab a bite to eat and head for the
Collection. Incredible Modern art collection -- a good antidote
to Renaissance overdose.
Saturday. Our last day of sight-seeing! Hard to believe it's
nearly over. But we are tired and give ourselves a leisurely wake-up.
After breakfast we head for the famous
Piazza San Marco. We watch while
people feeding pigeons get swarmed -- slightly disgusting, like rats
Doge's Palace. Beautiful windows, but much of the art has a more
governmental tone, with the Duke being featured where Jesus normally
Bridge of Sighs. A span between the palace and the prison, over
which the convicts got marched. The prison was a maze of horrible
rooms, with a grim chill that reminded me it was time for lunch.
- St. Mark's Cathedral. An eye-popping tribute to the fact that
Venice was the gateway to Byzantium and parts east. Encrusted with
- St. Mark's Museum. Endless galleries about the history of Venice
and then more galleries of ancient Roman stuff. I think I've come to
the end of my sightseeing.
- Florian's. A famous cafe, founded in 1720. We stop for
cappuccino and chocolate cake.
We meander back to our hotel, then out to dinner. I have videotaped
the 10-minute walk between the hotel and the restaurant -- a combo a
quiet passageways and lively shops, but I'm sure it will never capture
the mysterious thrill of this place.
Sunday. Sad to leave Venice. Train
back to Rome. In Rome it is pouring, but we wander around the station in
order to buy our tickets to the airport tomorrow and to find the right
track. Hotel Britannia is
only a few blocks away and now we are so comfortable in Rome that with
open our umbrellas and stroll through the rain and traffic -- citizens
of the world.
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