Venice was an impulse visit. But can one get this close to Florence and not visit? So we did. For a quickie.
We took a boat from piazza San Marco via Murano to Marco Polo airport (where they have a large boat arrival and departure terminal) and drove off in a rental car for Florence. Pressed for time with only a year to see the whole world, we took the autostrada instead of the scenic route. Along the highway we passed exits for Venice, Padua, and Verona, which got us wondering about Shakespeare and this corner of Italy. Maybe Shakespeare was an Italian woman…
On the autostrada, once we got west of the coastal plains it was all tunnels and bridges. While my fellow passengers snoozed after a stop for croissants and expresso I felt I was driving in a video game. Modern, clean, and ergonomically lit, Italians do tunnels very well.
In Florence we had the top floor of an apartment around the corner from the Palazzo Vecchio. This was terrific till later that evening. We left a brooding Vivian (we all need our space once a while, and we are learning how to get and give it while traveling as a family) and stopped for photos in front of Fake David (Evan doesn’t look that happy either, right) and walked past the hallowed Uffizi. We took an evening walk down to Ponte Vecchio – the famous bridge across the Arno that even the Nazis couldn’t bring themselves to blow up (Evan is beginning to cheer up). Later that evening we ate dinner at Perseus, a restaurant on the piazza across from the Vecchio Palace not far from a bronze of Perseus holding aloft Medusa’s head. And we reminded ourselves to not eat at restaurants on touristy plazas Ever Again. The gelato at the piazza-facing gelato store, however, was terrific (even Vivian cheered up).
On the plaza there was a huge event being staged. A man with a microphone and a jumbo screen behind him was interviewing celebrities and urging people to do something – all very loudly. In the plaza there was a whole bunch of stationary bicycles and people were riding them vigorously – think Rosedale Ride or any other charity bike ride but with stationary bikes. I like the idea. No streets to close off, much simpler permitting from the city, the entertainment and the cyclists stay in the same place, no motorists or road rage, fewer wrecks, and you can do it on a Friday evening! Between the loud interviews, music played even more loudly. And the huge and ancient wall of the Vecchio Palace was used as a screen for projecting images, logos and messages. From guessing and googling I gathered they were saving the planet, especially marine life, from plastics.
“Get in the Saddle. Let’s make the planet a better place”
The party and especially the music continued till well past 1am and the cleanup crew carted shit loudly down the cobbled streets till it was dawn. Ahh – Romantic Notions of Italy – 0, Boring Civic Minded America – 1.
In the morning while Vivian and Evan finally slept for a bit, Jo and I walked around the Duomo. Chinese brides were getting their wedding photos in front of Instagram worthy backdrops before it got crowded. But the lines were quickly beginning to form. By the time we walked to the Accademia to peek in at Real David and the Prisoners, the lines were too long for my liking. Instead, we walked over to the market at San Lorenzo and admired the famed huge indoor food market. We bought croissants for breakfast and took them back to the sleepy kiddos.
Later that morning I dragged everyone to Santa Croce and walked respectfully past the crypts of Michael Angelo and Galileo and Machiavelli and the sad empty monument to Dante. Outside in the piazza a couple was playing FM grade easy listening music on a violin and keyboard and they filled the space with beautiful sound.
Then we repeated much of the same route around the Duomo with Vivian and Evan. I talked to them about the dome of the Duomo, a marvel of engineering, and the history of the famous Baptistry of Saint John, and how so many amazing people came together in this one city almost six hundred years ago to create so much that we still treasure and how that gave the Renaissance an unstoppable momentum. But Vivian and Evan really couldn’t give a shit and that happens sometimes. So we went to the food market at San Lorenzo and ate a nice lunch and drank wine and cider and chatted. Then we drove to the overlook on the Arno to get a view of the city. It was splendid and even the kids stared.
And as quickly as we had driven down, we went back to Venice and got in an airplane bound for Croatia. Finally.