Travel: Firenze, Italy 1998
While Milano was OK, Firenze is incredible. Granted, we didn't spend much time in Milano, but there just wasn't much to see nor much character to any of it. We walked the shopping streets (via Spiga and the Golden Triangle), but there was nothing that couldn't be found in any large city's shops, nor were the shops themsleves terribly imaginitive. Firenze, however, is a little jewel with history oozing into you from each little walkway and alley. By the time we drove there, found the hotel (you have NEVER before experienced city driving HELL until you navigate through narrow, one-way streets always radiating OUT from the Centro of an Italian city, closed to all cars but taxis, and NEVER going the right direction), and headed out for dinner. It was dark (about 9:30pm)--a bit late for dinner even for Italians.
Imagine walking around a tiny, ornate, but delicate human-scaled city sitting atop a fine, intricate cake in hyper-relief. The lighting in the city at night makes Firenze seem like a dream. The hotel, right in the Centro, has its own tower from which the entire city is laid-out in 360-degrees which was beautiful at night but spectacular at dawn (panorama below).
I just started to learn some Italian but every language but English kept crashing into each other in my head. For the first day, "Grazie" was simple for me, but quickly I would naturally start root-up my French in order to figure-out clues to what I was reading and hearing. After that, just about anything was likely to come slipping out of my mouth. Strangely, Grazie NEVER came to mnd after a few days and I had to fight it out instead of Danke (and I don't even speak German) and Tak (Norweigian). However, I did have my greetings down and I surprised myself at parsing the spoken numbers for my totals in the farmer's market. Many people in shops and restaurants speak English (thankfully) but the farmer's market was a noticeable exception. However, each stall-owner was so friendly and accomodating, it didn't matter. With Lire, everything is in Thousands or Millions. 1000 Lire is much less than a dollar (about 70 cents) so every price you speak and figure seems an entirely different number system from quantities...quattro (4) gelati costs something like uno millione, cingue mille (15,000) Lire which is still only $8 or so, but you get the idea.
Though the shops are much smaller than in Milano, nothing seems to be missing and there are so many more of them. Gelato is sold from every third store in the Centro, like Gaps in Manhattan or pizza take-out in Berkeley. It is the consumate walking city, best at night after a meal, with a slow pace, and a pistachio or chiocolatti gelato on a cone. In comparison, Paris is much better to walk through during the day.
I found some interesting clothes in shops that I hadn't seen in Milano or elsewhere, including an unusual Issey Miyake shirt that made me rethink ever ironing again in my life. I finally replaced my long-stolen Missoni sweater and we found some great lyrical Allessi kitchen and table goods.
I would come back here in a second and would love to stay for a month, minimum, if not 3 or 6 months. Thede and I are already talking about it for next year!
The Duomo in Florence is as ornate as the one in Milano but in an entirely different way. It's use of red, white, and green marble makes it look like a painting or a fresco more than a piece of architecture. It almost looks cartoonish from some angles or like a huge birthday present, carefully wrapped from others.
Inside, the church is much more sparse and simple and more beautiful because of it.
Of course, the front steps outside were a great place to sit and people-watch while we were waiting to meet-up with Kevin, Laura, and Jennie--and a decent place to nap for Jeff and Mark.
A few days later, Kevin, Inez, Thede (all pictured here), and I drove back to Firenze on scooters! It took about an hour each way but was a blast--on the highway, through the streets and of course, through the beautiful Chianti valley. We took a few pictures in front of the Uffizi next to the Arno river before heading back to an amazing dinner cooked by Sterling and Kris back at the villa.
Lastly, below is a panorama of Florence from the top of our hotel at sunset. Beware that the full-size image is about 240K!
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