11.01.2013 - 11.01.2013 7 °C
I have fond memories of Florence from visiting it with Muriel 20 years ago and was not disappointed this time but could see the toll the explosion in tourism has taken. If we were to visit Florence these days in the summer, we would need to book all the museum tickets weeks to months in advance and stand in long lines and be limited to short viewing windows. Florence is the big ticket stop of the bus tours of Italy along with Rome and Venice. For this reason we see visiting Florence in the winter has real perks even if the weather is not cooperating. Today we have seen the most tourists since Paris but there still are no line-ups and you can take your time or go as fast as you want and not have to compete with your fellow rubberneckers.
I think driving in Florence has been one of my most challenging experiences, especially since it was raining heavily when we arrived (I don't think I scarred my navigator, Hannah, too much during our foray). If the roads of Florence were arteries in a city's heart, then Florence is overdue for bypass surgery and should have died of a heart attack a long time ago. When we investigated parking on the Internet, we had identified some large underground parking lots but the fact that they are underground makes finding them akin to prospecting for gold. After what seemed an eternity of winding around the streets of Florence we struck the mother-load a parkade with plenty of parking spots charging a manageable sack of gold for its use. We were a little worried when we were searching since we read the old inner city is a no go zone except for permit holders and there is a high fine for wandering into this area which seems to have no indication where it begins.
Our eventual arrival at the Uffizi Gallery was hard won since we had arisen around 6:30 am and did not darken the doors of museum until after 10:00 am. I had downloaded a Rick Steves' guided tour to the Uffizi on my iPhone and iPad. We have tried a couple of his tours before with mixed results. We decided to try one more time and are really glad we did. The kids and I had a great time, they got a lot out of seeing the evolution of Italian painting from the middle ages and through the Renaissance. A highlight for me was seeing Raphael's "Birth of Venus." I was astonished to find out how much the kids have been taking in when they connected painters and their works with those they had seen in the Louvre and the Prado. Hannah even saw two paintings of Adam and Eve and said, "How is that possible, I saw these in Spain." We found out she was right, the paintings in the Uffizi were copies.
The word Uffizi means offices, and the gallery used to be the offices of the Medici family. There is a wonderful u-shaped hallway that is lined with paintings and Roman statuary that gives you an idea of what it was like during their day. It certainly was an atmosphere that would make someone want to come to work. After our visit we explored the streets of Florence checking out the Baptistery and its famous bronze doors and the Duomo next to it. The Duomo is a very colourful marble clad church which I was surprised to hear that many people think looks ugly. It was covered in marble as a rush job to celebrate the unification of Italy in the 1800s. I guess different tastes appreciate different things. Another bit of trivia is that Florence for a short time was the original capital of modern Italy.
After wandering the streets a bit, we headed to the Academia to see Michelangelo's statue of David. This truly amazing work used to be in front of city hall but after 300 years was moved indoors. An exact replica stands out in front of city hall. It is a great copy but seeing the original in the Academia still seems far superior somehow. I didn't know how the kids would react but they were truly struck by this work as well. "Pretty good job for a hometown kid!"
Afterwards, we wandered some more, checking out other buildings including a granary that was converted into a church in the 1300s. You can still see the grain chutes openings in the main pillars of the building and iron rings in the ceiling that were used as pulleys to hoist bags of grain. The kids liked this church because of the ornate altar which houses a pre-Renaissance masterpiece by Bernardo Daddi an artist they have a soft spot for (for those who don't know my first name is actually Bernard).
It turned out to be a wonderful day despite the weather. The only disappointment was the pizza. We find out later that better pizza awaits us in Siena.