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The street market in Florence... at least there were no crowds
In hindsight, we're very glad that we made it over to the Cinque Terre on February 19th, because it turned out to be the only sunny day we've had all week. The day before when we had gone to Pisa (February 18th) it had been cloudy and overcast; and the following day when we took a "down" day (February 20th) it rained. Our only excursion on that rainy day was when Russell and Cameron went out for milk (unfortunately we discovered that the mini-market near home is closed on Wednesday afternoons, so we ended up having to go back to the Coop mercato in Viareggio). However, the rain enabled us to be at home to celebrate the rare and magical moment of 8:02 PM -- 20:02 20-02 2002.
When we awoke on February 21st it was still raining, so a return visit to the Cinque Terre was out of the question. We wanted to be indoors but we didn't want to stay at the villa, so the obvious choice was to visit a museum somewhere. We decided to drive to Firenze (Florence), about an hour and a half away. Russell has very fond memories of Firenze from when he lived in Europe for six months more than 20 years ago. Firenze was one of his favorite destinations (he lived in France and kept taking the train to Italy in order to eat); it is home to both the Renaissance and the world's best gelato.
As usual, we avoided the expensive autostrada and took the free superstrada instead -- unknown to most non-locals, between Pisa and Firenze the superstrada is actually faster. But our most exciting adventure began when we actually arrived in Firenze. Every guide book we've read says to avoid driving in Firenze at all costs, but we really didn't have a choice. With Russell behind the wheel, we experienced firsthand how Italian drivers do not recognize such ordinary things as lane markers, signal lights, or speed limits. Direction signs are either non-standard or completely non-existent. Driving on Italian roundabouts is especially an experience. Gail either insulted or complimented Russell by remarking that he was driving just like a native.
(Back when we were in Australia, we were caught by two speed cameras. We know this because the Australians mailed two speeding tickets to our home in California. To this day, Gail and Russell still argue about who was behind the wheel. Gail therefore wishes to make it known that if we get an Italian speeding ticket dated February 20th, it's Russell's fault.)
By sheer luck, we made our way into the city within sight of the Ponte Vecchio (the famous covered bridge over the River Arno) and found an amazing rare free street parking space only a block away from the Uffizi. We were already out of the car and walking down the street when we realized that the parking area was for residents only. We got back in and drove around some more, navigating through narrow unmarked one-way streets that our car barely fit through. After almost an hour of looking in vain -- and following "Parking" signs that led nowhere -- we finally settled for parking at the train station, many many blocks away from the Uffizi.
By now it was well past noon, and everyone was hungry for lunch. We ducked out of the rain into a small café where we ate our first restaurant meal in Italy -- Joss had a salami sandwich, while everyone else had pasta. Unfortunately, it was while eating lunch that we looked in our tour book and read that our first destination -- the Bargello and its sculpture-filled Museo Nazionale -- closes at 1:50 PM. We looked at our watch and saw that it was currently 1:40 PM.
We decided instead to concentrate our afternoon entirely on the Uffizi, one of the finest Renaissance art museums in the world. Thanks to Russell's sister back in the United States, we now had a copy of Rick Steve's book "Mona Winks" and our first opportunity to use it. We cannot praise and recommend this book highly enough. With explanations and background that even children can understand, we navigated through the hundreds of paintings and sculptures in the Uffizi, finding and concentrating on those works that most significantly represented the major developments in art, the major artists, and their contributions. We learned the difference between Medieval art and Renaissance art, and why the new movement was so revolutionary. We studied the works of Giotto, Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rafael. The boys had the best time they've ever had in a museum. As Cameron remarked, "It's much nicer to have know the story and the person who painted it. Otherwise you're just looking at a picture."
By the time we departed the Uffizi after almost three hours, the sun was shining again. We did a little bit of sightseeing, enjoying the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo (cathedral), and some gelato. Russell even found an Internet café where he was able to update our Website for the first time in a week. Our drive home was delayed only by some road construction outside of Pisa. All in all it was a wonderful and productive day.
The Ponte Vecchio
We have only one full day left here in the Tuscany Valley before we head south to Rome. What we do tomorrow will depend entirely on what kind of weather we wake up to.
Celebrating the return of the sun on the Ponte Vecchio
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