This is my final post about my trip to Europe last fall. (If you missed any of the posts or you’re planning your own trip, all of the links are below.)
During the car ride from Barga to Florence, I was feeling ready to go home. I would’ve been completely okay with going straight to the airport. But, after checking in at the Piazza Pitti Palace, shopping at a 163-year-old pen & paper shop, and being introduced to a gold & silversmith by our enthusiastic guide, I wanted just one more day. Maybe two. I was regretting the decision I made months earlier to spend just an afternoon in Florence.
But, the flight was booked, so I needed to make the most of this time and soak it all in.
We left the artisan workshop and Vanessa, our guide, led us through non-touristy narrow streets. These streets were still bustling with locals, but they weren’t packed with wide-eyed tourists bunched in tight groups that were difficult to wade through. They were populated by shoppers, commuters, and people just going about their day.
Some streets were almost empty, a stark contrast to the main thoroughfares.
Every block or so, Vanessa stopped and pointed something out…a bit of architecture, a historical event, a story that might help us understand the culture.
She even pointed out the high school she attended! (It’s the building pictured below.) It was evident this was her city, not just simply a place of employment. She was greeted by a shop owner or someone biking home from work on almost every street. She would exchange quick pleasantries and then continue with our walking tour. Those “interruptions” didn’t detract from the tour, but added to it. The fact that everyone seemed to know her indicated you were in good hands.
On our way to see Michaelangelo’s David, she showed us a small church that is over 800 years old! Seeing buildings like this makes you realize how young our nation is.
We saw a lot of churches and cathedrals on this trip and they were all special, but I really loved this one. It was smaller, simpler, but still ornate and beautiful. Music drifted into the sanctuary from an adjoining room. A small handful of visitors were knelt on benches, praying. It was a beautiful moment.
As Vanessa shared a flyover of the history of Florence, I was so glad we went on a tour of the Louvre at the beginning of our trip. The two dovetailed so nicely. We saw portraits in the Louvre of people we were now hearing about.
And it was amazing to see medieval buildings, still intact and in use.
…and how the new built around the old, leaving little hints of remnants of the past on display. (See the arches?)
Florence to me was a place where you had to guard against pickpockets and push your way through thick crowds and wait in long lines. Vanessa showed me a different Florence…one where you can stop and take a picture without getting jostled or pushed or feeling hurried. It was a leisurely evening stroll in the coolness and relative quiet of the shaded alleys. It was magical.
As we were walking, I noticed a woman with a pochade box on her lap, working on an underpainting. I took a chance that she was American (or at least understood English) and asked if it was okay if I took her picture. She complied. “You’re doing what I want to do…someday.” She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “Well, you should!”
We did walk by the Duomo, but the evening crowds were a bit thinner and the atmosphere was more relaxed. She told us about the architecture and the history of the building as we made our way to other significant sights.
With the sun slipping behind the buildings, it was time to pick up the pace to make our scheduled appointment at the Academie. Vanessa always suggests going in the evening, because the crowds are thinner and the lines are shorter. She worked her magic and sweet-talked the attendants into letting us bypass the line to get in.
(Warning: I’m showing pictures of David and he is naked. Just in case you didn’t know!)
The room was still full, but it wasn’t packed wall-to-wall. You could take a moment to view the unfinished works lining the hall that lead to David. These works show the process by which David was carved, which makes you appreciate the finished masterpiece all the more.
And then we saw David. I saw David as a child and I remember him being much taller! Even though the scale wasn’t as impressive as an adult, I appreciated the detail and craftsmanship so much more. I found myself tearing up and my throat tightened. He carved that in three years out of one piece of marble. One slip of the chisel and it would’ve been ruined. The confidence, skill, and level of mastery it takes to make something like that is breathtaking.
It was a great experience and I’m glad my mom and I decided to do the “tourist” thing and see David. Before heading back to our hotel, we took the time to tour the rooms filled with musical instruments and one of the earliest versions of a piano. As musicians and music-lovers, we enjoyed that part of the Academie as well.
We walked home under a deep blue sky, completing a short, but rich and satisfying day in Florence. It was the kind of travel experience you hope for when you start making plans to visit a destination.
We were too tired to try to seek out a place to eat, so we sat down at the restaurant that was just a few paces from our hotel – Cafe Pitti. We ate outside on a marble-topped table and had some of the best food of the trip. I had zucchini risotto and my mom had the plate of spaghetti she was hoping for. Instead of traditional Italian bread, they served bread “chips.” It was so much like a chip that it took us a while to figure out it was very thinly sliced, seasoned bread!
Exhausted, we walked to our hotel and slowly ascended the stairs. I literally fell into bed, on a high from the day, but disappointed that I had to get up so early in the morning to catch a plane. 3:00 am came way too soon. My suitcase was definitely heavier on the way home and more difficult to zip.
Before I started a movie on the plane, I took some time to write in my journal. The notebook that I thought would be ample was completely full and the pockets were stuffed with scraps of paper, ticket stubs, and a dried bay leaf from the vineyard in Montecarlo. And I even lived up to my commitment to sketch (almost) daily. I got out of the trip what I wanted (with the exception of an antique tabletop easel) and I gained more than I anticipated. Even on the way home, weary from travel and time changes, I was thinking about where I might want to go next…
If you’re going to Florence and want to contact Vanessa about a private tour, you can reach her via e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to go on an organized tour (as I did in Barga), you’re in good hands with The Inspired Tourist.
If you’re traveling to Paris or Tuscany and want to know the specifics of what I did, you can find all of the posts of my trip (with links to tours, guides, lodging, food, and shopping) below…