European Oddessey – Florence

The train ride to Florence was not nearly as eventful as the one to Venice. The train was cleaner and we even had the opportunity to dine in the dining car. As good as Italian food is, it’s even better when served while traveling at speed on the European rail system.

As we made our way to Florence it rained on and off. This was not encouraging. The trip so far had benefited from good weather and we held out hope that it would last for the duration of the trip. No such luck. When we arrived in Florence the skies were overcast and it was drizzling.

After the beauty and charm of Venice, this brooding medieval city shrouded in stormy darkness seemed most unpleasant. When we arrived at our hotel there were some less than reputable looking people huddled beneath the canopy of the front porch area. My heart sank a bit.

Inside the hotel it was much better. The building that is the Hotel Loggiato dei Serviti was built between 1517 and 1527 by the religious order of the Servi di Maria. It really is a cool space.

We checked in and got settled. As per our routine we set out on foot to find sustenance and get our bearings. The hotel had free loaner umbrellas to which we availed ourselves. We trudged down a dark, narrow street toward the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore (aka The Duomo).

As you can see, even on a sunny day this street is somewhat foreboding.

As we made our way the skies opened up with torrential downpour. We sought shelter in the doorway of a shop and waited, using our umbrellas to ward off the splash of cars speeding through standing rain water.

It did not look like it was going to let up so we made a dash for a nearby restaurant to ride it out. We ordered some food and something to drink and talked about the current situation. Keep in mind we are about 2/3 of the way into our trip (thirteen days), having traveled from Amsterdam to Bruges to Paris to Venice and now here. We are tired and we have seen and done so much. I guess we were just breaking down a little and letting it get to us.

Not only was I not enjoying being in Florence but I was having anxiety about Rome. Cynthia was also a bit dismayed but stepped to the plate in a big way and spoke positively about what we had accomplished and gave me many, many words of encouragement. We both agreed that it was silly to lament such things and Cynthia quoted from one of the Rick Steves’ books where he said (and I am paraphrasing here) “you must arm yourself with militant optimism” and “if you were not having fun you weren’t trying hard enough“.

We finished our meals and crossed the street to have a look at the Duomo. The rain had let up and was coming and going but not bad. We walked a bit and then decided to go back to the hotel and retire early after having the clerk make our reservations at Galleria dell’Academia to see Michelangelo’s David.


When we awoke the next morning we had breakfast at the hotel which was provided as part of our accommodations. They even served regular coffee and left the pot. It was heavenly. The extra rest and the breakfast really lifted our spirits. To top it all off the sun was even shining.
We were both in a much better mood and our enthusiasm was returning. We set off on foot to see the Duomo in the sunlight and take in some of the other sites before our appointment with David. We trekked down to the Arno river and saw The Ponte Vecchio. We saw the bust of Benvenuto Cellini in it’s prominent location in the middle of the bridge.

The railing around this bust was covered in padlocks with writing on them. Hundreds and hundreds of padlocks that city workers were having to cut away with bolt cutters. I found out later that this was something lovers did to symbolize their eternal devotion. They would lock the padlock and throw the key in the Arno river.

We made our way back to Galleria dell’Academia in time for our appointment to see David. The statue is much larger than I thought it was going to be. Standing a full 17′, it was originally designed to go atop the Duomo and be viewed from below. It is truly something I am glad I had the opportunity to see in person.


We polished off the day with a side trip to Città di Fiesole, a small town outside of Florence perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the city. Even when we got off of the bus a few stops too early we were undaunted and enjoyed some small talk as we waited for the next bus. Fiesole is a charming town and it solidified our notion that Italy is a wonderful place when you get off the beaten track and really dig in.
We caught the bus back to Florence and walked some more, taking in a few more sites.

For our last day in Florence we decided once more to leave the confines of the city and explore. This time it was an hour-long train ride to Pisa to see the La Torre Pendente. We figured we might as well, when would we have the chance again?

Pisa is a “one trick pony” kind of place. You go to see the leaning tower, you look at the cheesy souvenirs and you leave. It took us all of an hour before we were ready to go back to Florence.

That’s pretty much it. The complex featuring the tower and the cathedral. More pics at the Pisa Gallery on my site.

When we returned we took a chance and went to see how bad the afternoon line was at the Ufizzi Gallery. When we had thought about going to this museum prior the lines were VERY long. Now they looked manageable and we didn’t have to wait long before we were inside. The Ufizzi is one of the most famous museums of paintings and sculpture in the world. Its collection of Primitive and Renaissance paintings comprises several universally acclaimed masterpieces of all time, including works by Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero della Francesca, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. German, Dutch and Flemish masters are also well represented with important works by Dürer, Rembrandt and Rubens. What a send off to this city! We marveled the whole time we were in there.

I should also mention that while we were in Italy they in the middle of some type of cultural awareness program. What this meant to us was free museums the whole time we were there. This saved us quite a few euros.

Our successes in Florence mounted and we were embiggened mightily for our final rendezvous with Rome. The clincher for me in Florence was one last walk where we encountered a small shop called The Jokol’ Arte Juggling Store. Yes, a store that sells only juggling supplies. You need juggling balls? They have juggling balls. I giggled with delight just seeing it and was beside myself with joy walking inside and talking with the proprietor.

Ahhh, the absurdity.

Next Stop – Rome

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