Firenze: We had decided not to try to drive there (getting to the general area would be no problem, but once there, finding where to park and navigating back to the car would be a nightmare). We left the car in our “secret” offstreet parking and took the bus. This was a doubly good idea because we had both slept poorly and were feeling tired and less alert than the roads require!
The bus was a small thing, and it only carried us up to the top of a hill, where we transferred to a bigger bus. We were dropped at the main bus station and spent some time there trying to confirm our return time.
Since I had forgotten my phone, I was not able to take pictures during the day, but it also freed me up to wander around without looking like so much of a tourist!
We started walking towards the center, and stumbled across a tourist information office, where we picked up a city map. Firenze was the biggest, most intense stop (other than Rome), and it was absolutely jam-packed. While there were lots of tourists (particularly at major sites, such as in front of the Duomo), most of the people were locals, just out strolling and enjoying the day. It was, after all, Saturday, and we hadn’t realized what a crush of people there would be.
The street markets were in full swing, and we couldn’t resist a soft-as-cashmere wool scarf for my mom. (My dad later got dragged into a stall by a hard-sell leather vendor who tried to get him to buy a heavy leather coat!)
We had been warned over and over that pickpockets and thieves abound in Florence, but we had no problems. In fact, despite the dense crowds, we were not jostled or pressured at all, which made the day much more tolerable than it might otherwise have been.
Our first stop was the Academy to see if we could get tickets to see the David. Huge long lines made us instantly abandon that plan. While there are many things that you can get tickets to in advance on the Internet, that only works if you know exactly what your itinerary is going to be, and we never knew that far in advance. One of the things we had both discussed before the trip was that we didn’t want to feel pressured to see things just so that we could tick them off a list. So when the lines at the Academy were too long, we simply made a little detour and visited the San Marco Museum, which is actually an old convent where the cells were painted with frescos by Fra’ Angelico. Some good sculpture and paintings, but our favorite room was the library, with a good collection of illuminated manuscripts. There was also a great selection of architectural bits salvaged from buildings in Firenze, including the lintel of the old beit knesset in the Jewish Ghetto.
We had an uninspiring lunch at a semi-self-serve place (good artichokes plus we were entertained by the birds flying around inside). Then more walking. We headed to the Duomo, which is even more outrageous than Siena’s. (These guys were all competing with each other.) There were mobs of tourists, and we didn’t feel any need to go in or climb the tower. So we made our way to the Uffizi, looked at the replica of David that is outside (seriously, could you tell the difference?), and went inside to the courtyard where a photo exhibit of the Firenze police was mounted. (Very cool old pictures.) We cut through the gallery, which is free access and holds statues of many great Italians of the Renaissance. From there, it was a short stroll to the Ponte Vecchio, where masses of people were strolling across, looking at the fancy jewelry stores. On the river, a few single sculls were being launched. It was a gorgeous day, but very intensive and tiring.
We meandered back through the streets, getting sent off course in our attempt to avoid a large demonstration. (We found out later that it was one of several protests going on across the country to protest the budget slashes in education.) Again, by pure dumb luck, we stumbled across the Vivaldi Museum, which was free, housed in yet another impressive church, and we got to listen to wonderful music while looking at old instruments. (We were both impressed by the funky trumpet violin and the lyre guitar.)
I found a music store in the underground shopping complex (the passage you have to traverse to cross the big square by the train and bus stations) and was able to load up on the music I wanted. A snack and the bus back. We were back at the farm-house by 20:15 and had an improvised meal to use up our groceries.