renaissance man

7/4/10   –   23:43

I woke up at the crack of dawn and checked out of the Orvieto bed and breakfast. And by check out I mean I just left the key in the door and left. It was nice walking through the crisp morning air as I walked to the funicular station to wait for the bus to the train station. I wasn’t the only one up this early though. There was a troupe of hipster backpackers all decked out in their fedoras, stylish kerchiefs, and thick, black-rimmed glasses. Oh, somebody get them some black and milds. It gave me a good laugh as I waited for this bus that didn’t seem to want to be on time. I got a little worried, but I made it just in time for the train to Florence, or as the Italians call it, Firenze.

I made it into Santa Maria Novella station at around 10:50 and checked into the hostel. My wanderings started at the Duomo in all its green, white, and red marble grandeur. Next to it are the matching Giotto’s Tower and Baptistry with those famous bronze doors that are in every art history book ever. The dome is pretty impressive, both architecturally and size-wise [they complement each other.]

Next to the campanile [Giotto’s Tower], I made it to one of the gelaterias that the Let’s Go guidebook suggested, called Grom. Prices were standard and I got a scoop of espresso and a scoop of the gusto del mese [flavor of the month] which was fiordilatte all’amarena griotta. I have no idea what that is but it tasted like sweet cream and awesome. Let’s consult wordreference for some clues as to what that actually is. Okay. Fiordilatte is milk/sweet cream. Wow. Amarena is sour black cherry. And griotta is unable to be found… Uhm. I guess it’s not necessary to know what it actually is, then. Despite being very good, I was a little disappointed to find out that the cone I had in Orvieto was still better than this shop in Firenze. I will keep looking for the perfect cone. Orvieto has the title as of right now.

I popped in my earbuds and started Rick Steves’ audio-tour through Renaissance Florence. It took me down the Via dei Caizaioli, the main pedestrian thoroughfare in central Firenze. Stops along the way included the Orsanmichele church which was an old granary, the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria where the political heart of Florence rests, and several side streets with open air markets selling mostly souvenirs and what I assume to be fake leather. I kept my hands in my pockets cause markets are prime spots for pickpocketing. The thing is, I don’t know why everyone is so weird about thieves. I have never had an incidence of attempted pickpocketing. And I have never felt particularly vulnerable or unsafe. I guess I should be wary here, though. Firenze has a centuries old thieves’ guild so pickpocketing is part of this town’s history. Speaking of Renaissance Florence, here’s a couple throwbacks to scenes from Assassin’s Creed 2.

This is Palazzo Vecchio. I wouldn’t be able to free-run up to the tower to save my imprisoned father, but Ezio sure can.

And this is the place on Ponte Vecchio where the first scene of the game starts. The Auditore clan clashes with the… other one right in the middle, here.

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Enough of that gloomy assassin business, though. More gelato! I sort of flopped on this choice, though. Damn you, Caffé Corona! I tried mela verde, fragola, and lampone, which are green apple, strawberry, and raspberry. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I knew I should have had lemon in there somewhere. And the gelato from this place tasted a little more artificial, even though I could taste the fruit chunks in the dessert. I have my suspicions about their claim to be artigianale. Looking around at the beverage refrigerator, I noticed that they sure do love blood oranges in Italy. They even had blood orange powerade, which I thought was odd. I don’t particularly like blood oranges, but then again, the only experience I’ve had with them was the generic brand blood orange soda I got in Rome.

Further along the street, I ran into more vendors and I stopped in a store with some nicer quality shirts. The men’s shirts were of good quality and they had a range of earth-tone colors I like, but the text on the shirts was the selling point. They were well designed, graphically. Very chic and all. But they said things like: “I CAME DRUNK IN” and in smaller print in the middle, “with great responsibility”. My favorite, though, was “BILK BILK. To be a real man. BILK BILK. to be ream” I swear I will get a nonsense shirt by the time I leave. It’s a mission.  Maybe tomorrow.

I continued shopping around the Mercato Centrale and I enjoyed the fact that there were so many people selling silk ties. All apparently made in Florence. I don’t know if I can believe that, but the quality of the ties was very good, and I bought a black skinny tie. For 3 euro. Which was pretty sweet. Most of the patterns were meh, but you can never go wrong with solid colors. I left the market and its air thick with the smell of fake leather and attempted to grab som dinner.

I finally decided to treat myself out to a sit-down dinner. Not that the on-the-go pizzas and paninis were unenjoyable by any stretch, but I was craving some real Italian pasta. A lot of the places that the guidebooks suggested were closed because it’s Sunday, but I ducked into this one hole-in-the-wall place by the hostel called Bistrot Capannina. It’s a very local place and everybody called the chef/owner by his name, Tony. I was basically the only foreigner there and I watched Tony make my meal from scratch directly in front of me as I sat at the bar. I ordered spaghetti a la carbonara, which has a sauce with eggs and bacon in it. I guess it’s sort of like breakfast for dinner. It tasted great and my favorite part was the thick sliced bacon deliciousness.

More walking around led me back to Grom where I gave them another chance with a scoop of lemon and a scoop of raspberry [made with their own organically grown fruit!] This one was better and very refreshing, but still not the best. Nice try, Grom. I’ll try more places tomorrow.

Alright. Random thought/observation time.

– There are lots of immigrants here. The Indians own a lot of the mini-marts and kebab shops. The Chinese have mini-marts and restaurants as well. The Africans sell the fake leather in the markets. And… well. The Filipinos. They just walk around, surprising me with their bursts of Tagalog around every other corner. Why Firenze? The world may never know.

– There was a medieval torture museum that sort of looked interesting, but the sign was an equivalent of a “viewer’s discretion advised” warning and I ended up thinking against it. The torture I can handle, yes, but graphic depictions and replicas of medieval and renaissance diseases sort of make me want to vomit.

This is the Rape of the Sabine Women sculpture that is in the Loggia little courtyard of sculptures by Palazzo Vecchio. It’s a beautiful rendering of three bodies from one piece of marble. In this picture, though, their anguish seems to be more from the pigeons on their heads than any actual raping.

– By the way, I don’t plan on visiting the Uffizi, the Bargello, or the Accademia. They’re way too expensive. And besides, I think I’ve done enough museum crawling in the past few weeks. I’ll take a break for a while and the next big one I’ll see is probably the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Louvre in Paris. Until then, the copies of the major works that are everywhere will be good enough for me. Who’s to say that the copy of the David in front of Palazzo Vecchio isn’t as good as the original? Close enough, I say.

– I’m jealous of you, Sam. Florence seems like a fun place to live. I think you’ll have a blast while you’re studying here in the fall. :]

The last thing I did today was the Piazzale Michelangiolo at sunset. A lot of students and tourists make the trek up the hill to sit on the steps and watch the sun set over the birthplace of the Renaissance. And when I say trek, I really do mean a trek. I got out of breath climbing up the steep hill and set of steps that lead up to this look-out point. Immediately when you get off at the top, there’s a bar/gelateria waiting for you on the right-hand side. Nice placement, cause the only thing you want at that point is a drink. I resisted, though, and went to the supermarket where the prices were not as inflated. I watched the sunset with the rest of the students and travelers, beer in hand. Followed quickly by a coke because Italian beer is not the best I’ve tasted. Not the worst, but definitely not the best. Haha.

Tomorrow is more sight-seeing with lots of random shopping and culinary adventures in between.

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