Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - If It's Friday, It Must Be Firenze

"Travelers never think that they are the foreigners."  (Mason Cooley)

Road trips.  Long, seemingly endless drives.  "Are we there yet?".  Interrupted only by bathroom breaks and occasional stops to eat junk food.  Squirm and twist in the seat, but can never get comfortable enough to nap.  Fiddle with the air conditioning.  Wish you could be a dog and just hang your head out the window.  Road trips - mind and butt numbing experiences...Not my favorite...

That's what our Thursday was like when we left Sorrento.  An eight hour drive on the bus:  4 hours back to Rome, and then another 4 hours north to get to Florence.  The Italian freeways looked pretty much like I-5:  long and straight; "Autogrills" instead of "AM/PM" minimarts.  We saw a lot of Italy that day, but mostly from the inside of a tour bus. We whizzed by much of the fabled Tuscan landscape:  fields of sunflowers, rustic villages perched atop rocky hills, ringed by cypress trees.  How I wished we could have stopped to wander through this beauty.  Ah well - another time!  Here's some pics to remind me of what we missed.

But we were headed to Florence - "Firenze" - the capital city of Tuscany.  Florence:  the fabled heart of the Italian Renaissance; home to artists, writers, and sculptors like Cellini, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Boccaccio, Dante, and of course, Michelangelo; the seat of power and wealth for the Medici family and Niccolo Machiavelli.  So, even though I was disappointed in all that we missed as we trudged northward, I was excited about all there was to see in Florence - once we got there.

Florence is a city of 400,000 people (surprisingly small to me!) that sits in a "bowl", surrounded by hills, straddling the Arno River.  As we neared it, it reminded me a lot of the Rogue River Valley, my home (missing the green fir trees though).  Before we drove to our hotel, we stopped at the Piazzale Michelangelo, a square overlooking the city.  We stretched our legs in the sun and hot air (It was 100 degrees!) and we took a group photo.  Here is the "Perillo Family", July 2011 (Can you see Deborah and I? Center left in photo)

We finally checked into our hotel, the NH Firenze, at 5:30 pm.  Deborah and I then took a long walk along the Arno River to get some exercise.  Our destination was the Piazza della Repubblica in central Florence.  We weren't sure how far it was away, but we were game to find out.  Here's a photo from our walk:  first, the Arno River, then the entrance into the Piazza della Repubblica.

It took us a good 30-35 minutes to hike to the Piazza, which didn't leave us enough time to shop and poke around since we had to get back to get cleaned up for dinner.  While we ate, we made another "executive decision".

Our group was scheduled to go to Venice the next day.  When we first saw this on our itinerary it sounded inviting, but now it didn't sound so fun.  We'd have to get up early, hop on a train for a 2 hour ride further north; spend a day walking around with a tour guide; eat dinner in the train station, then ride back, returning to Florence late Friday night.  Deborah and I had had all the riding and shuffling around as a group that we "could stand".  So, we told the group "Arrivederci!" and enjoyed sleeping in, a late breakfast, and then a whole day to ourselves in Florence.  It was a great decision!  We walked; we shopped; we ate; we drank; we really got to savor the beauty and bustle of Florence - without headsets telling us where to look.  We were two curious tourists, free to stop and go on a dime, not a herd of 40 following a guy with a flag.  I would pull out my trusty little Rick Steves map and try to steer us to our next "destination", but most of the time, we just wandered, hand in hand, laughing and smiling.  Here are some of my favorite photos from that day.

Deborah in front of a statue called "Hercules and the Lion"

Me and "Il Porcellini" at the Straw Market 
(Rub his nose and you will come back to Florence someday - so I did!)

Deborah shopping at the Straw Market (famous for it's leather goods and at the Cafe where we had lunch

The entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's town hall and an art museum

"Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life."  
(William Faulkner)

Our day in Florence just whizzed by.  We hiked back to our hotel that afternoon - sweaty and tired - but surprisingly, ready for more.  While Deborah showered and rested, I went searching for a restaurant nearby for dinner.  After hiking for a half hour, I returned unsuccessfully to the hotel.  We could always return to the Piazza della Repubblica and eat at one of their sidewalk cafes.  So, we put on some clean clothes - Deborah opted for some more comfortable sneakers (but definitely not as "stylish"!) - and we retraced our steps back to the center of the city.

Little did we know the adventure that was in store for us... something we have laughed and talked about again and again in the month since we returned...perhaps our best memory...A night when two travelers from little old Grants Pass enjoy a magical evening...

Anything that good deserves a blog entry all to itself!  Ciao!

I didn't take this pic, but it's a gorgeous look at downtown Florence from the bell tower next to the famous Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral and its beautiful Duomo.

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