Sunday, June 26, 2011



Our final day in Florence was a long, tiring, and rewarding one.
It was hot today. Almost Rome hot. The sun was out most of the time, which was nice aesthetically but not for comfort. We took our usual route through Piazza Della Signoria, past the Uffizi, then west along the Arno to the Ponte Vecchio. This was the first contact we'd had to the famous bridge, and what we did have was short lived, as the alley between the endless jewelry shops was very crowded. Within fifteen minutes of stepping out our door, we reached the Pitti Palace. It's a very expansive and uniform structure, prefaced by a vast piazza which slopes down to the street. We originally mistakenly bought tickets for the Gardens behind the palace (Giardino Boboli) as well as the Palatino and Modern art galleries. The total for both tickets cost us €22 each, so we hurriedly returned the more expensive ticket with no problem. After breathing a sigh of relief, we proceeded into the main courtyard of the Palace, whose side rooms contain the exhibits included in the entrance fee for the Gardens. We viewed multiple rooms of treasures from ancient Russia, including gold and jewel-incrusted swords, reliquaries, and amazing ivory sculpture. We also viewed a 17th-century costume gallery which was hard to find and not really what either of us were expecting.
Thankfully, the gardens were enjoyable despite the heat. The hill above the Pitti Palace is carpeted with manicured lawns, terraces, groves of trees, and shaded pathways. We explored a portion of the gardens I had never seen before, a hilly area with once-paved paths, dappled with the sunlight and shadow of the arching foliage overhead. We returned to the main entrance of the gardens, a large semicircular amphitheater lined with sculptures, an obelisk and oversized marble bathtub in the center. Of the many resident cats that i remember from our last trip, only one was to be found near the gift shop, taking a snooze right in the middle of the gravel walkway. She enjoyed the stroke on the back and chin rub as much as i did. I miss kitties.
Up two flights of stone stairs is a terrace in which a murky fountain sits, full of fish and ducks. Another dogged trip up two more flights will grant you the top of the gardens, where a tall female sculpture stands, facing a nice view of the palace and a slice of Florence. We skirted the border of the garden, then descended again, past an old tea house, and to the best spot in the gardens for a panoramic view of Florence.
As the fates would have it, indeed I ran out of battery on my second photo of the panorama I intended to take. Cursing first the battery for inaccurately telling me its charge level (it said full charge that morning), and myself for not having charged my second battery, we assessed our options. Our plan was to head over to see Fort Belvedere, then head east to Piazzale Michelangelo. With this new development, our original plan was not possible, so we made the (literally) 15 minute return down the hill, through the Piazza Pitti, across the Ponte Vecchio, and to the apartment to charge my battery. This was a good opportunity to rest, though the fact remained that neither of us had eaten much of anything that day, aside from some yogurt and fruit that morning, and an apple during our exhibition tour in the Palace. Even so, we struck out again in an hour or so, around 3:30. We retraced our steps of the morning, recrossing the Ponte Vecchio, though altered our route by making a left on via Giorgio, an uphill path toward Fort Belvedere. This was a nice piece of deja vu for me, as my mom and I had made the same trek on the sloping street, only downhill instead of uphill in the overcast, humid heat. We stopped for a look at Galileo's house, then took a slight detour through the Bardini gardens, a surprisingly smaller yet more well-maintained version of the Boboli Gardens. Resuming our trek on via Giorgio, we found the fort, which was unfortunately closed, then headed left past it to follow the tiny road which runs parallel to the city wall. Erik was skeptical that this road would lead us to the Piazzale Michelangelo, but as I had researched this route beforehand, was confident of our path. Despite having to walk in the paved gutter most of the time due to occasional traffic on the one-lane road, the hike was enjoyable, with the ancient city wall and olive grove on our left, and another smaller retaining wall on our right. We descended back down into civilization, then were faced with the hot, steep climb up to the Piazzale. We faced and conquered it with courage, likely a hundred steps at least, but the breeze and view at the top were worth every bit.
The Piazzale Michelangelo is an impressive terrace in itself. A massive open space with a road circling the inside and a parking lot for locals, lined with the usual assortment of gimmicky souvenir and gelato carts, intermixed with street mucicians and talented watercolor artists. A bronze copy of David stands upon a pedestal, in an epically triumphant pose, surveying the massive expanse of Florence. This panorama can be described no way other than stunning. Miles and miles of red roofed buildings, church spires, and ancient structures stretch before you, the Arno glittering to the left, outlined by the Ponte Vecchio, and the Duomo standing proudly at the center of the mass, its powerful bells only faintly reaching your ears at this distance. The tower of Palazzo Vecchio also creates its own mark upon the horizon. And yet, Florence spreads for miles still to the East, farther than can be seen even from this vantage point. All of this, the origin of the Renaissance, tucked in the slopes of a vast valley, outlined by the gentle yet proud ranges which mark the borders of the great city. I could not have asked for a greater reward to such a long day of trekking. Nothing can resemble the experience.
After fully enjoying the fruits of our labor, we returned the way we had come, though instead this time we passed beneath the city walls and crossed the Arno again, followed it West, then passed through the Uffizi courtyard and the Piazza Della Signoria. We headed over toward the Duomo by way of the back streets to try and find a more off-the-beaten-path place to eat. Instead we stopped by our grocery store to pick up supplies for the next day, then with our packs full of food, stopped at a small yet charming Ristorante. It was a lively place, with arched brick ceilings and nice lighting.
Thankfully, our intuition proved correct, as our best meal of Florence was here. For as little as we ate during the day, and considering how many miles we walked, it seems a miracle that we kept enough energy in us to do what we did. When our meals came, mine of grilled strips of steak, and Erik with a veal bone with mushrooms and sauce, we 'ate like homeless people' as Erik likened it to. After thoroughly enjoying our meal, we dropped the groceries off at the apartment then made our last trip to the Piazza Della Signoria. It just so happened that the gelateria two doors down from us had none other than Panna Cotta flavor. I definitely bought the large cone. I will never love another gelato flavor for as long as I live. Erik picked up some tiramisu gelato from his favorite place, in the alley off of the Piazza. We enjoyed our final Florentine gelato nowhere else but on the steps of the town hall, the sculptures of Hercules and Perseus at our backs, the Palazzo Vecchio stretching toward the darkening sky, its facade and windows glowing brightly. To stand where the rebirth of art was conceived, is to stand almost in a dream. Goodnight, Firenze.

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