Florence, Italy At first, one takes the Florentines quite seriously. After all, they saw the birth of Humanism, the flowering of the Renaissance, a massive number of wars, dealt with the Medicis and umpty-ump popes telling them what to do while robbing them blind, meanwhile tripping over countless artists of every stripe clamoring for commissions.
But they have gotten their revenge, by brilliantly engineering the tourist trade in such a way that we often don’t know not to take them seriously.
Examples? You want to go to a museum, church, famous palace or other public building? It’s not enough to simply want to go and then appear at the designated spot. No.
You must research the location and determine what the opening hours will be. Some sites are available on alternate Tuesdays of odd-numbered months. Some are available for two hours in the morning and one hour after lunch. Most are closed on Mondays. Others have changed their schedule since your brand-new guide book was published.
You crack the code and then think about getting a ticket or reservation. Must go online? Fine, but the site doesn’t allow you to complete the transaction. You may or may not be successful if you resort to a personal appearance.
But say you succeed. If your destination is the Uffizi Gallery, say, if you enter the courtyard with proof of your pre-paid ticket in hand, then the fun begins. After a time-consuming search for the correct portal, you present your printout for a real ticket. Next you must determine which entrance is the appropriate one for your particular class of entry. Believing and hoping you are successful, you stand in a security line and ultimately arrive at a booth where your ticket is scrutinized. One Valium later, you are ready to see the art.
More common is going to a clearly marked entrance only to find out that the ticket office is in some other part of the site, even sometimes in another building. Slog there, get your real ticket, and start again at the entrada.
All of this results in full employment for Florentines, and — this is purely my speculation, mind you — tourist officials in a back room somewhere laughing hysterically watching video tapes of confused and frustrated tourists trying to figure out the unknowable. Hours of fun.
But, of course, it’s all worth it in the end. Though we were thwarted at several points today, we did manage to see some lovely parts of the city. We started at the Ponte Vecchio and navigated across it to the Pitti Palace. It was closed today, but its beautiful Boboli Gardens were open, displaying the grandeur of the Medicis in nature, and their views of Florence.
After lunch, we meandered a bit, thwarted in our attempt to see the Brancacci Chapel, located in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine (Go online!!) Maybe we will have better luck with their website tomorrow. We took our business instead to the Santo Spiritu church, which was designed by Brunelleschi, of the dome-of-the-Duomo fame. Lovely church, but no photos allowed. It features a small room in which hangs the carved Crucifixion, done by Michelangelo at young age, when he was an apprentice. It was quite clear then that he had talent. (I snuck in a web photo.)
Don’s Food Corner
Today the weather was beautiful. The company we had was a lot of fun. The setting for our meals were lovely. The food? Somewhat disappointing.
Lunch: I had a pasta dish that featured penne with a tomato sauce that was both heavy and boring. I noticed some fresh cherry tomatoes in there. The tomatoes combined with a pesto sauce did not work for me. The pasta was not homemade nor fresh. Jo had a vegetable soup — the special of the day. The waiter insisted that she sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top “Because it is the kiss.” I didn’t taste the soup, but apparently it was loaded with all kinds of seasonal vegetables. Jo raved. Maybe it was the kiss. After the soup, she had a Caesar salad that featured curls of parmesan. A hearty salad, which I didn’t taste.
We seemed to walk miles to get to the evening’s restaurant. The long walk through the narrow, breathtaking streets of Florence was the real highlight of the evening. At the restaurant, the atmosphere was ideal. The food seemed a little skimpy on the plates. However, it was clearly prepared with care. I had a fresh porcini mushroom salad that was layered with shaved slices of Parmesan cheese. Very fine mushrooms; very fine cheese. Unfortunately, the photographer was napping when it was served.
For my main course, I had tortellini stuffed with a soft cheese and lightly dressed with a cream sauce. The tortellini was freshly made. The pasta was unusually thin and delicate. The cheese, which was also freshly made, had an extremely soft pillowy texture. The sauce was so light it was almost invisible. I just wish there had been more.
Jo started with chicken liver pate on toast. The pate was served warm and seemed to have been freshly made. It was more like a light chopped chicken liver mousse than what we would think of as a heavier pate. It was nicely flavored. Jo also had the tortellini.
This was a case when we would have been happy to have had this light pasta dish followed by a meat or fish course. But it’s hard to tell how big the portions would be from one restaurant to another.
To make up for the relatively light portion size, we ordered dessert, which we rarely do. I had a bit of an accident when handed the handwritten board listing the dessert. I erased part of the listing with my thumb. At the time, it seemed hilarious, but that could have been the bottle of wine laughing . . .
(For the record, I had panna cotta, which was unremarkable as usual; Jo had a multilayered concoction of a shortbread base, a layer of chocolate, a layer of heavy cream, and all covered with more chocolate. It wasn’t worth the calories and between us, we couldn’t finish it.)