It was super late and I was exhausted last night, if you couldn't tell by my post. I forgot my favorite thing about Italy (which I have since added), I didn't proof-read, and I forgot to add a quote from St. Francis of Assisi that I was going to put at the end of the post. Since the quote is so beautiful, here it is today:
"While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart." -St. Francis of Assisi
Today was our last day in Tuscany! Boo hoo hoo. We had to check out of our villa by 10 am so we actually had to hustle a bit this morning. We packed up everything, Christer loaded it all in the car (for some reason we had like twice as much stuff coming home), and the entire trunk of the station wagon was packed. Christine walks out with 2 huge bags that need to be put in the trunk as well...time for a professional packer to take over. Christine unpacked and repacked everything Christer had just put in so that we'd have room to take everything home. Not so sure how we had so much stuff because we didn't really buy anything, but you know how that goes. We wanted to get a stop in on our way home, and since we were driving straight through Florence, we decided to take a look around at the birthplace of the Italian renaissance and have some lunch in the enormous city.
My first observations upon driving into the city: Florence is crazy. There were literally 5 lanes of traffic funneling down to 2 lanes with ZERO marks on the road. Not a single line on the road signaling cars where to go. It was just a free for all, may the best man win situation. And, on top of all this crazy traffic, there are about a million mopeds, who, for some odd reason, are completely exempt from any and all traffic laws. Not seriously, but they drive like they are. We had finally funneled down to our 2 lanes, staked our place in the line of traffic, and, no joke, 5 mopeds just scoot on by us and all the other cars, driving down the middle of the road, on the side next to the sidewalk, and anywhere else they can fit, just to get to the front of the line. It was sheer insanity. This won't give you any insight to the crazy driving, but just check out the number of mopeds parked on the side of the road. No, these were not for sale. Every single one of them had an owner somewhere on the streets of Florence.
And in regards to the streets of Florence: Just picture New York City, but instead of people minding the traffic and staying to the sidewalks, just multiply the number of people and throw them out there on the streets so that now all the roads can only (carefully) fit one row of traffic. It was madness. Crosswalks and waiting for the walking signal just don't exist in Italy. (they really do exist, but nobody uses them and the traffic doesn't obey, so there's really no point) We made our way to the crown and glory of Florence, the Santa Maria del Fiore, or Il Duomo (just like every other church in every other town we've been to so far).
This thing was so flippin huge, as you can see, that it was impossible for me to get the entire thing in my camera. There were also what felt like a million different tour groups out front, so I was having to fight around all those people to get any good shots.
Construction on the duomo began in 1296 in the gothic style of architecture, and was finished in 1436 when the dome part of the church was added on. Construction for the church began (a guy named Arnolfo di Cambio designed it), but the church and design was so massive and complex that the architect died before it was finished, and consequently went through as many as 20 different architects during the building process. Construction came to a complete halt during the Black Plague, and was eventually finished all but the dome in 1418. Even 600 years after its completion, the dome is still the largest brick dome in the world.
After the madness of the cathedral, we walked to the Piazza della Repubblica, one of the many squares in Florence. This one was Jameson's favorite because it had a carousel (even though he wouldn't ride on the horse and made Christine sit on it with him).
After the carousel we made a bee-line for the Ponte Vecchio. We were all hungry and wanted food, but we also really wanted to see the famous bridge and starlight of Florence. Along the way we passed a sidewalk artist, and an open air market.
The Ponte Vecchio is what you picture when you think of Venice. It was tourist ridden and overrun with souvenir shops, but from a distance it was still so beautiful. During World War 2, the Germans decided to blow up all the bridges along the Arno, making it difficult for the British troops to cross. At the last moment, Charle Steinhauslin (some bigwig in Florence) convinced the German general to spare the Ponte Vecchio from being blown up because it was simply too beautiful. All the other bridges have been restored to their original structure using as much original material as possible, but the Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge along the Arno in Florence to have survived World War 2.
This is the actual bridge itself, above. The rest of these pictures are views from the bridge.
There is a statue of Benvenuto Cellini along the bridge where lovers will seal their love with a kiss and lock a padlock inscribed with their names to the fence around the statue. They will then throw the key into the Arno river, symbolizing their love being sealed forever. The statue was under renovation and had a covering over it so I was unable to get a picture. A couple did this in a movie and I can't think of what movie it was...can anyone help me out?
Most of the shops along the bridge are now jewelry stores. During World War 2 most of them were butchers' shops, but now they cater to the tourists. I thought it was cool how they close up the shops. You see the open store on the left, and the 2 stores to the right of it are closed. All the stores have these giant trunk-like coverings that completely enclose the windows and doors and lock to secure the shop. I'm not sure what the history is behind it (if any) but I thought it was interesting.
After the masses of tourists (see here):
we made our way to lunch and then to the Piazza della Signorina, which is the heart of Florence. This is where all the major art museums are located, and is the political hub of the city as well. There is a never-ending waiting list for RESERVATIONS to get into the museum to see Michelangelo's David as well as works by DaVinci and Sarto. So what did I do? Just take pictures of the fake ones! (only the art snobs would really know the difference anyways)
I couldn't go in and see the real deal, and I honestly couldn't tell you what half of this stuff was anyways (that humanities class really paid off!), so I (naturally) got a little distracted.
Haha! This last one cracks me up every time. :) (as long as it's not my head)
There comes a time in every day, with all this traveling and sight seeing, that you just need a gelato. The time had come. The place Christine led us to (with the help of Rick Steves) used all natural ingredients and had a great selection of flavors. It also just might have been the best gelato I've had so far in Italy. It was so good Christer asked us (immediately after finishing off our cups) if we wanted to go back and get more. Jameson was so tired he didn't really get to enjoy much of the gelato, though I'm sure Christine didn't mind that she didn't have to share as much of hers.
Out for the count. You can still see the gelato on his mouth.
We'd seen the basilica, walked on the bridge, and watched David and all those other gods get pooped on. Our time in Florence was done. 3 hour drive home, veggie burgers for dinner, paper finished for school, and it's lights out meatball.
Today my favorite thing about Italy is: You know how you always read and hear about these amazing buildings, works of art, statues, and cathedrals, but you just have to look at the pictures in the book or online because you'd never dream of actually going to see them? It seems like everything amazing and cool from history is right here, in Italy. Right at my fingertips. It's all right here amongst us. That's my favorite thing about Italy.