It was still pouring rain with thunder when we woke up this morning. We checked a satellite weather map online and saw a massive and very dark storm hovering over the entire west half of Italy. By the hourly forecast, there was a 90% chance of rain all day. We decided to skip Fiesole, since our plans included spending the day outside exploring ruins of Romans, Etruscans, and Longabards (I still wouldn't know a Longabard if it hit me in the face). Instead, we opted for some unplanned Florence activities.
After pulling on plastic shopping bags over my socks to protect my feet from the inevitable leaks of my boots, we headed out to the Mercato Centrale, which was actually just a few blocks from the Duomo in a direction we hadn't been before. I felt silly knowing something so amazing was so close without us every knowing it was there. The Mercato Centrale is the (thankfully) indoor food market. And it is enormous. We almost got lost wandering through the narrow paths lined with meat vendors selling sheets of tripe, fishmongers, produce stands, fresh pasta booths, bakers, and spice baskets.
We went through the maze a couple of times to properly orient ourselves, then went through again and looked for a couple of little somethings to take back to the states with us. If my research from last night proves accurate, we will succeed. If not, I will try not to be too sad about losing the goods. Customs has been known to be greedy, after all. I should expect it.
Outside of Mercato Centrale (almost up onto the steps of the market building) is the San Lorenzo leather market. The carts here pretty much sell everything else you can find in touristy areas all over the city, but this one had a wider selection (if you can't find a particular fold wallet, look a few carts down), and some of it is a few euros cheaper (I bought something the other day that I am kicking myself over. I could've saved three euros if I'd waited. Oh well).
After shopping, we walked back home (the rain had briefly let up at this point). I had a snack and took a customs inventory of everything we've bought so far (mostly because I was bored) while Sam took a little nap.
We then decided to head out to find pastries on our way to the Palazzo Vecchio. We ended up getting some at the adjacent gelateria/bar associated with the restaurant where we had dinner the other night, Caffe Perseo (as in Perseus, whose Medusa statue is just across the Piazza della Signoria from the Caffe…the Piazza della Signoria is the Piazza in front of the Palazzo Vecchio). Sam thinks that might be one of his favorite all-around restaurants in Florence.
Anyway, we each got two pastries for our late afternoon "lunch." Sam got an apricot mini pie thing and a cream-custard-filled sugary puff donut thing. I got a chocolate croissant sprinkled with almond slivers and a little apple tart. Both were very tasty. We ate the pastries in front of the Palazzo. An old, possibly Russian woman came up and asked us how to find the Piazza della Signoria (she showed us a piece of paper with that written on it and pointed in various directions, saying "Grazie, grazie." Sam, not realizing, pointed her in a direction not at all true, because, well, we were standing right there in the middle of the Piazza. She was so pleased for our assistance though, that by the time I was done staring quizzically at Sam and he'd realized what had happened, we felt bad chasing after her and trying to explain that we were fools. So instead we scooted off and hid behind a large crowd of Japanese tourists and made fun of their overly large tripods. Maybe they just really, really wanted good pictures. I don't know.
We also listened to a few passing tour guides speaking English. I am of the opinion that most tour guides don't really know what they are talking about unless they have a degree in what they're talking about, and that everyone else gives you either word-of-mouth or Wikipedia information, or better yet, tells you things that are completely obvious. One man passed by, saying to his customers, "This is Perseus with Medusa. It is original. It is a bronze statue." Oh? A bronze statue you say? By gum, I would never have guessed!"
Of course, we realized that people here will often state the obvious just to fill silences they feel are awkward. For example, in the market today we were looking for a new wallet for Sam. We found a perfect one at a stand that, curiously, had no attendant (usually they hover over you the second you glance at their goods, but this time we were able to freely browse and peruse for several minutes with no appearance). Figuring out that no one was going to pop out to sell us anything, we searched for it elsewhere. We stopped at every stand with wallets, and at one of them, a fellow came out and stood the standard 4 inches away from us while we whispered about the wallets.
All of a sudden, the man piped up: "These are small. These ones are medium-sized, and those other ones are large."
A little further down, we had paused to look at some pretty hand-embroidered aprons. We were stopped in front of a very small apron we were considering for a young'un we know, when suddenly the attending old woman cooed in a matronly voice, "That one is for a child." REALLY? I wanted to wear it on my head as a bonnet. Too bad.
Anyway, when we were done making fun of the universe, we walked into the Palazzo Vecchio to see about the fabled "Secret Passage Tour" we found while perusing the guidebook in depth during our rainy-day despair yesterday.
We went in and inquired, then purchased tickets for the 4 o'clock English tour. A nice bonus was that it included access to the regular Palazzo/Museum and only cost two euros extra! We had about an our to kill before we were to meet the tour guide, so we cruised through the Palazzo.
I am not a fan of fancy upper-class Renaissance (and thereabouts) decor. I am ALL for supporting the French Revolution when you look at places like Versailles. Needless to say, we moved fairly quickly through most of the rooms.
Some things were interesting, however, and it was nice that Sam had read so much of the dirty deets about the Medici family in the guidebook on previous evenings. He provided an interesting commentary on such things as murders during mass, conspiracies, and conniving intellectual Medicis, as well as the supposed origins of the Medici family crest, and how not even the Medicis could decide what the crest actually looked like.
There were some interesting parts. I liked picking out mythological figures in some of the ceiling paintings. There was a very interesting bronze globe in the cartography room that we spent time investigating. There was also a curiously-placed "Mask of the Senator Dante Alleghieri" that we could not, for the lives of us, figure out, 1)why it was placed where it was (on a side table in an otherwise empty hallway), or 2)whether or not it was his death mask.
|Point to home!|
The "Secret Passageways" tour would be more appropriately named the "Places Only Recently Available to the Public" tour, but I guess that doesn't sound as cool. We were first shown a side room that had a little stairway down to the street leading to the Uffizi (which at the time the passage was built, was still a little church that has since been knocked down and, obviously, replaced with the Uffizi). After that we went up a very tall and tight little stone stairway behind a door that led to a room that was outside of Cosimo Medici's bedroom (his actual bedroom is currently a Mayoral office, and therefore off limits). There was another "secret" stair that supposedly went up to Eleanora's apartments (his wife), but we didn't go up it. Instead, we went into a little room used by Francesco Medici (their son) for doing his secret little alchemy experiments. The room was shaped like the inside of a treasure chest and lined from floor to ceiling with large paintings.
Behind each painting on the floor level was a secret cupboard. The paintings over and above each cupboard gave a clue as to what could be found inside (gold, diamonds, glass, crustaceans, whatever). Side note here: the girl giving our tour (admittedly, she was on a study abroad and this was only her 3rd tour) began to irk me with silly statements about mythological inaccuracies, and calling a statue of a woman holding coral "Amphrodite," or alternately "Aphrodite" (you remember Poseidon/Neptune's wife Amphititre, right?), standing next to a statue of Venus/Aphrodite, of all goddesses. Her pronunciations also started to rub me the wrong way… "RuhNAYsons" "Mikkulangelo" blah blah blah. Maybe it's because she's from Virginia. Maybe it's because she was probably younger than me and admitted to not reading the book they asked her to read before she started the internship. Ah, well.
Anyway, behind a couple of the paintings are not cupboards, but a secret stair to Cosimo's study, which we went up and saw. It was very small and, in contrast to Francesco's mythological/alchemy-oriented hangout, was also rather Christian-symbolism-heavy.
After those rooms we went into the Room of Five Hundred and talked about how heavy the ceiling was with all the paint and gold on it. I'll be honest, at this point, I was a little too tired and headachy to take her any more seriously after the "A(m)phrodite" episode, especially since she was consistently covering up Sam's questions with unrelated and wordy spewings of information. Ceilings, from my point of view, are incapable of being "heavy."
I suppose I was proved wrong a few moments later when we went up the million stairs to our final "Secret Passageway," which was inside the roof or attic or whatever of the Palazzo, above the Room of Five Hundred. In there, you can see the original and added support trusses that not only support the roof above and the walls of the building, but also support, in essence, the weight of the ceiling of the RoFH. If she was going to throw around "paintings and gold are so heavy" down below, it would've made more sense to explain that she meant that it required great support from above in order to maintain the stability of the building's structure. But instead, it was just "I'm not telling you where we're going, but just look at how HEAVY it all is!" I can't get over it. I should. The trusses were really cool. But, Amphrodite, really?? Ok, ok, I won't ever speak of it again. Did I mention my judgement is impaired by a headache?
Alright, so after the tour, we headed back home, then waited for 7pm when "Gusto Pizza," the pizza place recommended to us by several, was due to open. It's actually only a couple of storefronts away from the Gusto Osteria, where we ate the other night. I think "gusto" just means "tasty." Very original. Anyway, we had about an hour and a half, so we sat down on the bed and I took a little nap to ease my tired head while Sam fiddled around on the internet. Eventually we walked over and ordered our food, then took a seat.
Fortunately the pizza was done very quickly, so we didn't have to endure long the events that followed. Apparently Gusto Pizza is a very hippety-hoppety "totes authentic" pizza dive frequented by mid-twenties Americans who think that participating in a study abroad makes them oh so very wise. Every person but one small old couple hiding in the corner was mid-twenties American. I am a little embarrassed for my demographic.
Overheard at the adjacent table:
"…she is like so weird. Like we were listening to this Italian song today and she was like, 'Can we listen to that other Italian song?' And I was like 'uhhhh' and she was like 'You know, duh duh duh…' and she sings it and I'm like 'uhhh that's Portuguese.' She is so dumb."
Anyway, the pizza was pretty good. It wasn't anything unique though. It tasted very similar to the pizza at Terra Mia in Orem, only the dough was yeastier and not as thoroughly cooked. The cooked-ness might just've been a fluke in mine, though. Sam got a tomato/parmesan/arugula one, and I got a spinach/ricotta/mozerella one. Tasty, but perhaps forgettable. A good price though. Man, I am just all kinds of critical today.
After dinner we walked down to our favorite gelato place at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio. I was boring and got chocolate again, but Sam got cream and hazelnut. I liked the hazelnut. Tonight was our last eat-out night in Florence. I think it was well spent. We are trying not to think about how much money we have spent on gelato this trip. I say Oh well, it's an ice cream trip. Forget the cold and the wind and the pouring rain.
Speaking of rain, the last two days of rain have effectively swelled the depth of the Arno by what appears to be at least eight feet. It's a really good thing we're leaving Florence Friday morning or I'd be a little more freaked out. There's no night watchman here to warn us of the rumblings.
Tomorrow we are going to try to go to Lucca. It's raining just as much there as it is here, but there should be reprieve enough for us to rent bikes, if any of the bike renters are open. If not, we'll just walk the old walls. I have a few hundred more yards of walking left in me yet.
We're coming to the Close! Get those Resurrection Stones a-ready!