Aug 7 – 12, 2015
Certain books influence you to make decisions for life. ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’, a biographical novel of Michelangelo Buonarroti by Irving Stone, is one such book. It was sometime in 2012 that I had rented this book from the JustBooks library, it was a slow read, but definitely a compelling one! By the time I finished the book, I had made a mental note that I would someday visit Florence to see David in all his glory, and stand at the Sistine Chapel in Rome to strain my neck and wonder at the frescoes, just be there! And am glad I indeed got to live that dream!
The train ride from Rome to Florence was a breeze. Paolo, our AirBnB host met us at the train station, directed us to his place, his son and daughter helped us settle down with ease at the room they were renting out. A relaxed shower and a sumptuous lunch later, we strolled towards the Piazzale Michelangelo. I didn’t realize along our walk, that this evening was going to be special, one that gets etched in memory for life; a memory that I would strongly associate to, when I’d reminisce about my Europe stay.
It was a glorious sunset, the sun was a fiery ball of fire, all that she was known to be. Calling it a mystical evening would be an understatement. Once you are out of the reverie, you notice the hordes of tourists trying to make sense of the moment, as you too are. I overheard some commenting that it was a very humbling experience, but I somehow felt it was far from it. I tried raking my brain to identify it, but in vain. The closest references that I could quickly connect to were – maybe this experience was what Roark in ‘Fountainhead’ had envisioned for the Stoddard temple, or maybe this is what they say yoga is, whatever be it, I felt that the whole thing was in sheer harmony, life, nature, man-made structures, just about everything. And it was surreal :). I was in such a trance, that Dee got frustrated trying to get me through the motion of selfies. Piazzale Michelangelo is a square dedicated to the sculptor, with copies of his famous work on display to the panoramic view of the city of Florence. A befitting dedication!
We then walked up to the San Miniato al Monte church, apparently Michelangelo’s favorite church and what a stunning view of the city! There were hardly any people around and it was dubiously dark, but Dee was a sport!! Enough said about our Day 1.
The next day was an overkill of museums. Our first stop, Uffizi (meaning offices) Gallery, had some interesting pieces of art. My favorites were Birth of Venus by Boticelli and The Holy Family by Michelangelo and we almost got tired of the numerous ‘Madonna and Child’ works of many artists. The Academia housed the David. Though it had many pieces on display, David garnered everyone’s attention and he had every reason to! We then walked back home along the Santa Croce Basilica. The night had a weather alert, it was thunderstorm and rain. Dee was starting to catch a cold.
Day 3 was a package day tour to Pisa & Cinque Terre. An affable bunch of tourists and a cool English speaking Italian guide, started off in the early morning train to Pisa. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is indeed leaning, you feel weird when you first lay eyes on it. Apparently the UNESCO money had saved it from becoming a ruin. Thanks to them, we would have else lost quite some history in the world. We climbed the tower and even funnier it was when we were almost leaning on the walls. Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) is an apt name for this area which houses the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa Cathedral, Pisa Baptistry and the Monumental Cemetery. The guide mentioned that Fibonnacci is buried in this cemetery and it was worth a visit to see his statue, but due to the Tower climb, we didn’t have much time in our hands. We then descended to the funny scene of tourists trying to save the tower from leaning further. Though I wasn’t game for it, it was quite something! Quickly then, we again boarded the train for Cinque Terre. The name means 5 Villages, our tour included only 3 of them – Riomaggiore, Vernazza and Manarola. A trek across the towns is best for Cinque Terre, but we weren’t able to squeeze it in our itinerary, so it was mostly a wine and dine situation while we traverse across them. Honestly, the place didn’t live up to the internet pics which allured us to plan for it or maybe it was was just me. Anyways, couple of photo clicks at vista points and we headed to the train station. The train was awfully late, Dee was getting sick, her cold was worsening and the weather wasn’t helping.
Day 4 was supposed to be our Tuscany bike tour day, but we decided to reschedule it for the following day, owing to inclement weather conditions. When the skies had cleared for few hours, we went to San Lorenzo Mercato for a laid back lunch. While I then headed out to the Medici Chapel (a must see for myself), Dee settled for some shopping at the leather outlets. I assumed that I must be the one crazy traveler who heads out in the rain, but then I was mistaken. The long queues at the various entrances at Santa Maria del Fiore was witness to the fact that rain or not, people are out here to have the time of their lives! The Brunelleschi’s dome is indeed a sight to see, we could climb up till the dome, but somehow I wasn’t up for it. Moreover, the dampener was that you have to be baptised to enter the inside of this church. I was earlier informed that many of the churches perform fast track baptism to facilitate tourists to enter, but I didn’t really care to verify the authenticity of this info, nor was I inclined to be baptised just to enter a church. I wasn’t even sure if any folks who’d come by on vacation would even try it out, who knows, people could surprise you. I then finally hunted down the Medici Chapel’s entrance, after going around their building a couple of times. If I hadn’t read that Michelangelo’s biography, this place wouldn’t have held any significance for me. I was just elated to be here, to pay my respects to this family, who were his enlightened patrons. The Medici grand dukes, this family as such, were mentioned in history, to be not just patrons of art, but also unstinting donors of enormously valuable and magnificent gifts to sanctuaries not only in Tuscany, but also well beyond the Holy Land and as far afield as Goa in India. The tomb allegories – Day, Night, Dawn & Dusk statues displayed the sheer genius of the sculptor. I returned back home a little drenched and catching a cold. History and vacationing aside, got to attend chores, so we did our laundry, thanks to Paolo for his washing machine 🙂 The rain wasn’t ceasing, Dee was for the worst and I was having a restless night.
Back to our bike day to Tuscany. Thankfully the weather was kind when we started off our day with a bus ride to Castello Guicciardini, a 12th century castle, for the Chinati wine tasting tour. Filippo was a wonderful guide who knew all tactics to keep a group alive, we had some good laughs indeed. He then lined up our bikes. I stood out of the crowd in need of a kid’s bike, thanks to my height. The fact that my bike didn’t have any cool names such as Ace Ventura, Britney Spears, etc didn’t really bother me;) It didn’t take much time to learn operating its gears and it was all fun by the time we parked for lunch. It was a feast with 3 different pastas, desserts and all. Filled up our water bottles and started out for our return trip. Though I was on a steady pace, not sure how it happened, I didn’t realize that the others had passed me and nor did they realize that they were leaving me behind. Until Fillipo caught up with me, it didn’t occur to me that I was the last person, he was great company and I wasn’t complaining. In a while, it started drizzling and then ended up being a steady rain. Filippo mentioned to me that this was the best way to bike in Tuscany and left me to enjoy it by myself. Whether he was just charming me, or it was indeed true, I wouldn’t know. But biking alone with the rain on my face and the lush green Tuscany hills by my side, I couldn’t have asked for more to wind up my stay at Florence. There was more to bike in our trip, few of us gave up for the uphill while the rest trudged their way back with their bikes. We waved our goodbyes and I left with my new found respect for the bikers who I get to pass as I drive by, at the Santa Monica mountains back home, goshh, biking is no mean feat.
Our last day in Florence. Having missed shopping at San Lorenzo, we just packed our bags and left to the airport for our Paris flight. I was having a bad cold, but I was still happy that I got to experience all what I had planned for this city!