Standing in Line for the Uffizi

You can learn a lot standing in line.

On ibuprofen for  sore body parts, with a face covered in red dots and a humble spirit I stood in the Uffizi line beside PJ. We got up early and rushed out to wait in this queue, one of three we needed, or thought we needed, to endure before we could gain entry into the famous museum that houses the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in the world. For us, an event of a lifetime.

It was 8:00 a.m. The cool morning breeze off the river was refreshing. The crowds were minimal. Life seemed to be unfolding wonderfully well.

We stood at door 2 knowing it was to open at 8:15. In front of us were three college aged men from Connecticut in shorts and sandals kibitzing with each other, and a nervous couple from Toronto desperate to fit the museum into their Tuscany itinerary. Behind us stood a Chinese couple, quietly in love, waiting patiently

As the minutes passed the line grew and the crowd pressed in, their growing expectations palpable in the fresh morning air like the smell of cherry blossoms in the early spring. We watched the door.

It didn’t open.

We started to chat one another up,discussing the places we’d been, the things we’d seen… where we’d come from. The mood was friendly but heavy with anticipation. We knew our relationships would be short and enjoyed the casual interaction of strangers meeting on a journey.

But the door didn’t open.

People stopped by and asked what was going on. We didn’t know.

The door opened, a man emerged and walked down the line telling us things were delayed. Rumors of a strike began and the mood of the crowd darkened.

The door closed behind him.

We waited. People talked about their options. Most decided to stick it out. After all, how long could it be?

Then another man came out and posted a piece of paper on the bulletin board. I went up to read it, “…due to a staff meeting the doors will open at 10:30”. The rumors of a strike went rampant, and people began to leave.

It was 9:30. We’d invested time into this line. We stayed, chatting with people around us sharing our stories.

I won’t prolong this tale. We’ve all been there, waiting for a special event that hovers a fingertip beyond our grasp, wondering if we will ever reach it. We did, but not by standing in the line.

I held our place, while PJ went to a local church and bought tickets for tomorrow. I can’t wait. My fingers are crossed that the rumors of a strike are outrageous exaggerations created by nervous minds. Uh huh.

***

Along the outside corridors of the Uffizi are statues of all the great artists, scientists, poets and thinkers of the Renaissance that came from Tuscany. The list is impressive. I had no idea so many great thinkers and artists came from here. The ones I recognized were: Dante, Galileo, Donatelli, Americus Vespucci, Machiavelli, Botticelli … the list goes on

***

On the way home we wandered into the Duomo. Spectacular.

I like Rick Steve’s description: “Florence’s Gothic cathedral has the third-longest nave in Christendom. …neo-Gothic facade from the 1870’s is covered with pink, green and white Tuscan marble. …The cathedral’s claim to artistic fame is Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome, the first Renaissance dome and the modle for domes to follow.”(p. 465, Rick Steve’s Italy 2012) When they built the church they left a hole in the top for a dome even though they didn’t know how to build one. But along came Brunelleschi and the first dome was built. The paintings inside it are breathtaking.

***

We had Tuscan cured ham for dinner. Another great day in Florence.

Picture #1  Caftours website

Picture #2 Wikepedia

Picture #3 Sights and Culture website

Lost

…and foolish. Very foolish.

You know how I said you can walk everywhere in Florence within twenty minutes. Well, I proved myself wrong. I found other places.

I could blame it on the Citronella, or the kitchen fan, but the truth is I was plain stupid.

I’d had a rough night sleeping. The street noise was loud late into the night. When it quietened down I was left with the drone of the kitchen fan and the acrid smell of citronella burning the inside of my nostrils and turning my stomach in knots. By three in the morning I was ready to scream.

The citronella is part of one of our mosquito repellent plugs. PJ likes it because it works and the smell doesn’t bother him. He also likes to keep the fan on to move the air. You can see where this is going. By three in the morning I was ready to strangle him. My dear husband of 33 years was not looking so dear.

I got up and did some writing. The sun rose. I still felt physically awful, somewhere between sewer sludge and hell and worse I was boiling over with rage.

PJ snored.

So, I got up, dressed and headed for the door snarling over my shoulder about citronella, fans and my need to get out. PJ half asleep murmured, “What?” I left. It was 8:45.

The street was full of morning commuters on their way to work. The pace was fast and purposeful making me feel comfortable. I stopped a few yards from my front door in a lovely little cafe people were streaming in and out of, and had a cappuccino and pastry like everyone else.

Fueled with caffeine I decided I could go further. I’d go down to get the tickets we wanted for the Uffizi museum (which houses the largest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in the world.) It`s about a five minute walk. I sent a text to PJ and headed out.

A five minute walk. But not for me.

Did I mention that I didn’t have a map with me? Or that medieval streets all look the same? Or that I`m pitiful at directions and can speak about 10 words in Italian?

I veered off the right path pretty quickly and found myself down by the Arno River. No problem, I thought. I know the Uffizzi gallery goes right down to the river. I’d been there the night before for a boat tour.

So, I walk along a road parallel to the river expecting to run into the museum at any moment, but I don’t. I run into a bridge that carries cars. Oh dear, I say to myself, this is not good. I’ve gone too far. I text PJ and continue.

Rather than retrace my steps I decide to head home by making a ninety degree turn. It made sense to me. The buildings I’ve become familiar with are no longer in sight, the tourist kiosks have vanished and I find myself on a highway. Oh dear.

I walk along the road trying not to get run down by cars and scooters looking for a way to get back into the inner city, but can’t find one. I walk for some time and decide to make another ninety degree turn. By this point I’m sweating and it’s not from exertion. But I keep going, reasoning that a moving target is harder to hit. My legs and hips are  aching and my hand holding on to my purse for dear life is cramping.

11:00 and the landscape has totally changed. I figure I’m in the suburbs. Does Florence have suburbs? I’m in deep trouble. I look at every person suspiciously and send the fourth text to PJ. He`s not responding, but if I get murdered at least I’ve left a trail.

Is he still snoring? Urrrrgh.

I see a nicely  dressed young woman emerging from an expensive car and pounce on her. In perfect English she tells me I cannot possibly walk back. It’s too far. I must take a bus, but the bus stop here has been closed, so I should walk down the road and around the corner to find the bus stop in front of an electronics store.

I walk down the road and around the corner and find a laundry. No bus stop in sight.

I go back to the main road. It’s too damn quiet and I’m totally lost. My legs and hips are aching. I’m drenched in sweat and the sun is rising higher and higher in the sky.

I stop an elderly lady and ask her for help. She looks at me through wise eyes and shakes her head. “This is not goot,” she says. In her limited English she tells me it would be 20 Euro to take a cab. I must take the bus and points me down the road farther.

So I walk on and find a bus stop. Yeah! But on top of it is a closed sign. Boo.

I am now beside a hospital compound. They usually have cabs and I’ll pay 100 Euro by this point to get home, so I go in and walk the circumference of the building. No taxis, no emergency, no apparent front entrance. I figure it must be a specialized  hospital. I knock on the door of mini-bus and am told he goes to another city. Now what?

Time to retrace my steps. What other choice to I have. Five minutes later I find a real bus stop and it’s in front of an electronics store. Yeah. I wait for the bus with a group of ladies.

Don’t think this is the end of the story. I’m in Italy.

The bus leaps back onto the road and roars forward. I grab a seat. It roars through traffic and comes to a stop at another bus stop. So I go up with my 2 Euro coin to pay for a ticket. The driver says, “I’m finished,” gets up and leaves.

The people on the bus break into loud chatter accompanied with hand gestures, none of which I understand. Something is not right. I figure he’s taking a coffee break, and they’re not happy about it. I sit back down again. We are now in an area of the city totally unfamiliar to me and I have no friggen idea how to get home if I leave the bus.

All of a sudden, half of the people leave the bus and the woman who was kind enough to tell me the cost of a ticket motions me to follow. So I follow. What else could I do?

The new bus has a bus driver who smiles and takes my money. I stand amid the jumble of people heading into town. Am I safe yet?  Not sure.

We go on a long drive, but the further we go the more familiar the surroundings appear. We stop at a bus station across from McDonalds. I know I’ve seen it before so I get off and decide to walk from there.

Five minutes later I find myself at the central market and another five and I’m home. It’s noon. With great humility I climb my 57 steps.

I do not recommend doing this.

But I do suggest you discuss citronella with your traveling buddies before you leave home.

phew…I`m heading to bed.

Notes: 1. the picture is of my bus ticket.

2. My internet hook up is sketchy and I can’t send replies to comments at the moment. I’m sorry, because the comments are wonderful.

Wine Town Photos

The jazz string quartet getting ready to perform at the Wine Town event. Notice the statues in the back. Those are the ones I’ve been trying to figure out.

Another of the wine tasting venues.

The harpist at another wine tasting venue.

The pictures were taken by PJ on our sony camera.

Number One Reason to Visit Florence (Firenze)

Ponto Vecchio is Florence’s most famous bridge over the Arno River, and the only one not bombed in the second world war. (I borrowed the picture from a website on famous cities.) It is one of the many places we visited today. Originally, it housed butcher shops because it was easy to dispose of unwanted parts in the river, but since the Medici era it has been lined with gold and silver stores and has a statue of Benvenuto Cellini the master goldsmith of the Renaissance. I have to say, I love the earrings, and I will be going back. Above it is the Vasari corridor which the Medici family built as a private enclosed passageway connecting their Pitti Palace home to their offices on the other side of the river. (source: Rick Steve`s Italy 2012)

But no–this is not my number one reason to visit Firenze.

Back to my story. Being in Florence is simply wonderful. And never, I have to say, has the word `wonderful`been less effective for me. The sights, music, art, people…the ambience of Firenze is breathtaking. I`m trying my darndest to reduce it into words, but it`s an impossible task. I`m scribbling, hoping to communicate at least a glimpse of my experience. If you extrapolate every superlative I use, ten times, you will be closer to the truth.

The second day of Wine Town, the international wine tasting festival, was dare I say it –wonderful. As the sun set we listened to a string jazz quartet in a palace courtyard lined with tables of wine bottles. My preference is Chianti classico. We sipped and listened to the musicians in the warm Mediterranean air, humid in an oddly comforting way that welcomes and holds you in its embrace. People mingled and clustered chatting with friends. Couldn’t help but notice that no one would sit in front of us. They would come and take the chair and move it so that they could not impede our view. It did not matter to them that the rows would be disrupted. What mattered to them was being polite. It’s unbelievably warm in Italy and I’m not talking air temperature.

But that’s not the number one reason to visit Florence. Well, maybe.

Behind the musicians was a wall of life size statues that distracting me. Bacchus was lounging nude on one side. Opposite him was a woman straddling an urn with a very large open mouth. The suggestiveness of which was not subtle. In between the two was another nude woman holding up her nipples. I’m guessing it’s not a bible story. Would you put a naughty story in your courtyard? I’m wondering. I know there ‘s a good tale here, but I can’t quite get it. Perhaps I need another glass of wine.

But that’s not the number one reason to visit Florence.

Back at the apartment we’re winning our battle with mosquitoes. Since our arrival the little beasts have been dining on our bodies mercilessly (see post). We purchased special devices (zanzariere) you plug into the wall that keeps them at bay (thank you for that tip, Rick Steves). I have at least a hundred bites on my face. But we won!

And that’s definitely not the number one…

But this is. The number one reason to visit Florence is that all the major sites are within walking distance. At first the maze of streets were incomprehensible to me. Yeah, I admit I’m pretty useless with maps.  But the city is beginning to make sense. Two short blocks to the Palace Strasse for affordable cappuccino, newspapers and beautiful art magazines, continue straight and…  You get the idea. Everything is close. You don’t need to get on a bus or use a taxi. You can walk everywhere within twenty minutes. And, many of the streets are only for pedestrians. So civilized. So Firenze.

Bitten Alive

For those readers who may be drowning in jealousy reading about my trip to Italy, I offer you my blood letting story.

What can I say? Normally, bugs don’t like me.

Mosquitoes and wasps will check me out and leave me alone, like the good looking guys at a high school dance. I kinda like that. But, let me tell you,  the Firenze mosquitoes have better taste. They not only bite, they feast on me.

My face is a bespeckled mess. I look like I have measles. PJ is in worse shape. I gather he’s tastier, and his bites swell, so while I look like I’ve been attacked, he looks like he’s been vanquished.

Our flat is in a building that has numerous apartments built around a small column of space. People string clotheslines across it which they access from their windows. They also put out potted plants. It’s a useful common area,but I’m betting it’s owned by mosquitoes who’ve found their perfect breeding conditions in the warm humid air and pools of water collecting on the bottom. The human apartments are their feeding grounds.

But bites are a small price to pay for our experience. Don’t feel too sorry for me.

Our Day: After breakfast we headed out to run some errands. We arranged a couple of tours: a boat tour for Monday and a cooking class for next Saturday. We went to the market for cappuccinos and a few items we needed, and returned to the apartment with a bag of goodies for lunch. This picture is taken with my cell phone, so it’s not that detailed but you get the idea.

The streets were definitely busier today. It’s Saturday. We’ll do our shopping on weekdays from now on. Getting used to the tempo of the city.

The Mediterranean climate is interesting. It’s cold at night, hot at noon and warm the rest of the time. I think I may be forced to buy some clothes as I forgot to bring my jacket. It was hot the day I left, and it totally slipped my mind. Checking out the stores I’ve come to two conclusions, clothes are extremely well designed and affordable. Yes, I think I may be forced to buy some things.

PJ’s napping. We’re heading out later for the second night of the wine town tour. Who knows what we’ll discover this time.

Wine Town Firenze

Eager to experience all the cultural events, not to mention the vino, of the Firenze wine festival, we purchased our passes early, studied the map of the locations in town and arrived at our first destination precisely at 3:00 p.m. when it was scheduled to begin. But it didn’t. Silly Canadians.

We were in a courtyard inside a beautiful old building. The four inner walls were lined with long tables covered in white linen and wine bottles. Men stood around dressed in black suits looking serious.

We fell into a friendly conversation with a British family who own and operate the Castello di Potentino winery, in the Tuscan Maremma. They live in the Castello di Montepo, Scansano (castle) on the estate.The picture is from their website.

As a side line they have a bed and breakfast and hold special events such as  Etruscan wine making with bare feet during the grape harvest. We thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, but we couldn’t try their wine — as the wine glasses hadn’t arrived.

The officials said five minutes. The vintner with a nod of the head said that would be five Italian minutes.

We carried on our conversation. We asked about the proper procedure for wine tasting. A Somoliar explained the stages: first holding the glass properly, second, swirling the wine to oxygenate it and check it’s color and clarity, smelling it as its bouquet grows, and finally tasting it.

Charlotte Horton, the winemaker, recommended identifying a particular quality of the wine to commit to memory. That is the way, she explained, to improve your palette.

Thirty minutes later there were still no wine glasses and our short conversation had grown long.

That was when we saw people flowing in with  wine glasses. Ahah! We gave it another five minutes and then left for the next location.

Returning later, with glasses, we tried the Castello Di Potentino red wine. A light taste of paradise. A memory I cherish, and will take home with me. Imagine I talked with people who live in a castle and tasted their wine.

We also tried the Rose  from the Fattoria di Monte Maggio  from the heart of the Chianti Classico region which had a fresh fruity flavor. The woman gave us a fresh fig and salami from the estate to taste with it. Heaven.

At another tasting location we tried a fancy red wine, but it was heavy in comparison.

Needing a vino break we headed to the closest square in search of a cup of cappuccino and found a small market where we bought a bag of fresh biscotti (fig, apricot and dark and white chocolate), olive oil that tastes so fresh you’d think they just squeezed it this morning and another white cheese.

Then we returned home to our steps:

Merkato Centrale

We started the day with a one Euro cappuccino at the Mercato Centrale, known to have the best food in the city.

We bought a small block of white cheese soaked in red wine, two chocolate brioche, and 4 mini-paninis. Unbelievable!