Dante, E.F. Tours, Fanta, Florence, Gelato, Glambologna, Hitler, Leather, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Mussolini, Perseus, Pisa, Plaza of Uffizi, Poseidon, Saint Mary's Cathedral, Signoria Square, St. Paul's Cathedral, The Aron River, The David, The Duomo, The Medici Family, The Museum of Academia, The Pantheon, Vespucci
Day 15 – Florence
Mom’s Photo Count – 2004
Today is our last day in Italy, and I can’t say that I, along with most of our group, am too sad about it. Everyone is disappointed in the service and attitudes of the people and are not loving the food we are getting, or the outskirts of the big cities. Even Rodolfo said that Italians weren’t fans of foreigners, and they demonstrate this by selling beer that have Hitler and Mussolini labels. However, I wasn’t going to let my attitude about Italy so far ruin my day in Florence. I have been so excited to visit the origin of the Renaissance—the home of Dante, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Vespucci, and many many other contributors to Europe’s rich culture.
But before we could enjoy the city, we had to get there. At some point on our drive, Rodolfo and Mamet (our bus driver) began to argue about who was supposed to pay the check points (in some European countries, you pay taxes for using the freeways at check points), EF or the bus company. Mamet ran out of funding after the air conditioning and breakdown incident back in Germany, and Rodolfo isn’t authorized to use EF money for bus funds. So, both were on the phones with their bosses, Rodolfo yelling in Italian, Mamet in German. Mamet stopped the bus twice in the process of this argument, saying he would not drive any further if he was not given money. Both times they got off the bus, yelling at each other and the phone, close to blows. Then Mamet brought Beate in the middle of it because she speaks German and could translate. Finally, Mamet decided he would, for the group, drive us to our destination when Rodolfo told us to get off the bus with all of our belongings.
Finally we got to where we were supposed to park about an hour late. We still had to walk quite a long way to get to our guide in the middle of the city, carrying all our stuff that we had planned to leave on the bus, including Jerry’s wheelchair. Because we were late, we had to practically jog there, missing many beautiful statues and a few churches along the way. We finally met our guide and were able to do our walking tour.
We first went into The Duomo, the cathedral that has the tallest dome in the world, even taller than St. Paul’s (though the Vatican will not admit it). However, the cathedral didn’t impress me much. Though it is the second largest church in the world, it seemed too large and empty. It wasn’t as beautifully decorated with mosaics or paintings as the others I have seen so far, instead having plain, marble walls.
After visiting the church, we were introduced to Signoria Square, the most famous square in Florence that holds the imitation statue of The David. The real David, kept in The Museum of Academia, wasn’t able to be seen since the main museums are closed on Mondays. However, Mom, Pauline and I wouldn’t have been able to see him anyway because of our excursion to Pisa, so that made us a feel a little better about missing him. Of course, the replica statue still demonstrated the real statues magnanimity.
Other statues that were both impressive (but real) in the square was the Poseidon, which was an enormous and amazing fountain with waves horses and smaller figures rising out from the waves around him.
I also love any statue of Perseus holding Madonna’s head, and though I’ve seen a few this trip, this one used to be bronze and tops them all.
I also saw one that I particularly like by Glambologna that has three bodies intertwined with each other, reaching up toward the sky. The light was hitting the figures just right, and they glowed under a marble ceiling.
Next we walked through the Plaza of Uffizi that had the statues of famous Florentines on each side. It used to be the Medici’s private museum, the first museum in history. So many great men came from Florence, and it is as if they are all still here, alive through their art that has lasted for centuries.
Coming out of the square, we immediately came to the Aron River and famous bridge of Florence (the only original). I remember Jake showing me pictures last year of the same bridge, and I wish he was here to show me where he sang and where he stayed. There was a tradition on the bridge that a couple or friends would write their name on a lock, lock it on the bridge, and then throw the key into the river to lock their relationship to the city. Some of the locks were taken away with the new government, but some remain.
Also, above the bridge is a corridor that the Medici family built from their palace in Signoria Square to their palace on the other side of the river. It runs from the inside of one palace, over the bridge to the inside of the other palace so they wouldn’t have to mingle with the common people. This led to the law that said that the butchers who used to have their shops along the bridge had to move, because the Medici’s couldn’t stand the smell from above while they were crossing. They liked jewelry much better, so now all the shops along the bridge have expensive silver and gold available instead of blood and guts.
Last, we were led to the place of the leather demonstration. It wasn’t too exciting, and all that I learned was that you can only test leather to see whether it’s real or not by squishing it between your fingers to feel the lining. Well, I still don’t know what real leather lining feels like, so that doesn’t help me at all. However, I don’t plan on buying a leather jacket in the near future anyway.
We only had about 40 minutes of free time after that, our only free time in the day. Pauline said that she has never been on an EF tour with less free time. We are always waiting, waiting, waiting—sometimes it is the Puerto Ricans, sometimes Utah, sometimes both, and sometimes even Rodolfo or Mamet! Next time I do any vacation it will be with far less than 42 other people. As a result we had no time to see anything, including Dante’s house, because we knew this would be our only chance for food before dinner. We went into a restaurant and shared a pizza and a Fanta, the Fanta not amounting to much (size wise), but the pizza hitting the spot. We also snagged some Gelato from the cheapest shop and met our group to go to Pisa.
Everyone was wondering whether Mamet was still going to be our driver, but no one wanted to ask. Rodolfo still looked pretty upset, and when we walked up to Mamet’s bus we all held our breath. Luckily (I guess), Mom and I sit in the front and got to hear all their bickering. “Me no your friend,” Mamet would say, Rodolfo replying that no, he was right, “no friends, no friends.” The Rodolfo refused to help Mamet with directions, and so they got into another argument. Finally we got there after some awkward silences where the two were sitting as far away from each other as possible.
We got to Pisa and took a shuttle into town that reminded me of the London underground. Of course we were attacked by vendors as soon as we stepped out, and by now I have just gotten the habit of yelling “NO!” into their faces so they will get out of my space. Our tour guide there was wonderful, and reminded Mom and I a little of an Italian Hank (not Dutch). He was great, giving us a lot of detail about the baptistery, the St. Mary’s Cathedral, and of course, the leaning tower. All three were built in the 1000s, but look as if they were built yesterday. The marble is still clean and white.
The baptistery was amazing because of the ceiling and the acoustics. It was built with a hole in the top, just like the Pantheon, so that the water from heaven would fall directly into the bath. The excess water would drain out as the floor was built slightly slanted toward the entrance. Galileo was even baptized there. While we were there, a woman did a singing demonstration. The echo takes 11 seconds to bounce back, making it sound like a choir is singing when in fact it is just one person. It was beautiful.
Next was the cathedral, which seemed 100 times more beautiful and awe inspiring than the Duomo. There were paintings along all the walls, tombs (of whom we were not informed), and the altar was gorgeous. The center isle between the seats is lined with pillars, each weighing over 20 tons. This is the reason that the cathedral, though heavier than the tower, has not started sinking. Its weight is evenly distributed because of its columns. Up above was the second tier where women sat, separate from men and “closer to heaven,” as the guide put it. 400 years ago there was a fire that destroyed the ceiling, also melting metal down the original frescoes and the doors. Luckily the Medici’s were willing to restore it, creating a new and more lavish ceiling and door with their seal, and paying local artists to paint new images. It took only 200 years to build.
Last but not least, we learned about the leaning tower. The reason that it leans is because it is built on land that used to be covered by the sea, and now sand. The builders realized it was tilting by the time they were done with the third floor, so they tried to compensate by putting more weight on the opposite end. The bell in the top is also a little slanted in attempt to keep the weight distributed, in hopes that no one would notice. Back then, the building was only three inches off kilter. Now, it is 13 feet off. It was 14, but in 1997 they dug some sand out from underneath the non-leaning side in order to even it out a bit, thus preserving it for 300 more years.
After our tour, we only had a few minutes of free time to take the picture that everyone has to—holding it up. Of course, no one else was on time to the meeting point, and we didn’t leave until 30 minutes after we were supposed to. I don’t know why we keep showing up on time, since we seem like the only ones that follow directions.
We got back and had a long walk to dinner. It was worth it, though, because we had penne pasta and roast. After walking back and having my first, second and third creepy Italian run-in, I was ready to go home, shower, and jump into bed.