Friday, January 16, 2009

Now for the finishing touches

We've come to the final Florentine discourse I'm afraid. Our final day didn't produce a whole lot of picture, so I decided I could put New Year's Even and New Year's Day together in one post. Here goes.
On a trip like this one, it sometimes seems difficult to keep up the high level of amazing new experiences. Our first day, despite being utterly exhausted, we were endlessly in awe of all there was to see. Quite honestly, had that been our only day in Florence, we could have been quite proud of ourselves for seeing most of the main attractions of the city. At least for the outside. Our trip to Arezzo, though not as deeply significant to all of us as it was to Laura, was made great by her total enthusiasm. As we were entering into day three I think we were all wondering if this day could possibly live up to the others. Amazingly enough, it did.
I must say that our hostel experience barely rates any sort of telling, so I'll accelerate things to our arrival in the center. I want to take a moment to highlight one of the primary modes of transportation in Italy. I remember well all the mopeds we saw racing across the countryside when I was there in 96, and I was not disappointed on this trip either. Here's a fine display by San Marcos square, as well as a antique looking single from a walk on the other side of the river.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take a picture of the biggest highlight of my day today. Unlike Jonathan, the naughty boy, I'm left to merely recall the truth that I was there. I did briefly mention our trip to the Accademie in an earlier post, but let me just add now that seeing Michaelangelo's David was truly a moment to remember. As we entered the long hall in which he stands, he immediately drew my attention. I took some moments to approach him, looking first at the "prisoners" - a set of statues left incomplete at the time of Michaelangelo's death - but my gaze was perpetually drawn to the figure standing at the end of the hall. The statues is truly magnificent. It's impossible to fathom the block of marble from whence he came. How could the artist's eye envision what was trapped within? I walked slowly around him, pausing at every angle, feeling the strange sensation that always fills me when confronted with the mystery of time and history on display in front of me. It was a bit like standing outside of the Collesium and knowing it was, indeed, the original. I'm always a bit taken aback and captivated all at the same time. The rest of the museum was interesting, but it was the David that really captured my fascination.
Our reservation for the museum was at 11, which naturally means that by the time we were finished it was time to look for food. Laura had decided today would be double pizza day, so we headed off in search of a pizzeria, and ended up taking some pictures along the way, as usual. This time I did manage to get a good photo of Dante's Baptistery.

Florence is not only the home of ancient works of art, but also a city with art in progress. While this man may merely have been copying the work of others, it was, nevertheless, really impressive to see him creating masterpieces on the streets.

We ate in a nice little pizzeria, which Laura declared produced the best pizza she had ever tasted. I was a bit reluctant in my praise, as they forgot my order, and when it came it was a bit burned around the edges. Soured my mood a bit, it's true. But such is life.
After lunch we headed out for a lovely walk to burn off all that pizza so we could order round two later in the day. We crossed the river Arno on Il Ponte Veccio, and went for a lovely stroll on the hilly side of the river. We climbed the wrong hill the first time, but enjoyed the views and posing opportunities it offered anyway.

In this last picture you see Laura and Jared in profile standing near the ancient wall of the city. I thought this one was pretty cool.
We then headed up a second hill where there was a spectacular panoramic view of the city of Florence, as well as a brass replica of the David. This one, being outdoors, was available to photograph, but it just wasn't quite as impressive as the pristine white marble original.

We headed back to town and, not surprisingly, took some more photos, including this one of me self posing with Il Ponte Vecchio. Did I mention that I really liked this bridge? Well, I did.

Now, for anyone not well versed in my drinking habits, let me inform you now that I am a connoisseur. Not, as the Czech people are, of beer, nor, as countless people have been known to boast, of wine. No indeed. I am a connoisseur of...Fanta. It's true. My collection of Fanta cans and other wrappers extend across more continents than I have even ventured to. I've sampled exotic flavors like lychee, starfruit, and even cucumber melon (which really is better suited to a hand lotion than it is to a drink). When I know people are traveling abroad, I often make requests that they bring me back a can, which has led to cans from Israel, Egypt, Russia, Japan, Costa Rica, and the Netherlands.
With all this experience, I really like to give the classical Orange Fanta a taste before declaring the expertise of country in their Fanta production. Quite honestly, American Fanta is about the worst Fanta in the world. There is no real juice in it at all, and it therefore isn't any better than drinking any other artificially flavored orange beverage. Most European countries put in a decent showing with a 5% juice content to their credit. All the same, in my deepest memories, Italian Fanta always stood out as something special.
Several years ago my dad and brother went on a cruise following one of Paul's missionary journeys. They were to spend some time in Italy, and I put in a special request for some original Italian Fanta. Mom even made sure to put a note in to remind Dad to make the purchase. And make it he did. He even had a sampling to make sure it would live up to my remembered standards. Unfortunately, upon disembarking from the boat he realized that he'd left it under Bob's bunk.
Being the sometimes awful daughter that I can be, I recall giving him quite a hard time for his forgetfulness. I later apologized, seeing that he really did feel bad about it, but my disappointment was sincere. Now, several years later, I've been able to make up for the tragedy. So, Dad, this one's for you :) Let me also add that, as recalled with poignant accuracy, Italian Fanta really does stand alone. Those Italians know that taste is what we really want, and therefore they add a whopping 12% juice to their Fanta, packaging it in a bottle shaded a yellowish orange in order to really preserve the integrity of the marvelous beverage. Refreshing? I say a resounding "Yes!"

Now, unfortunately, I don't have a good photo of the gelato we sampled this evening. Instead, in our photo tour, we must move along to pizza round two and the proscuito and artichoke pizza that I had for dinner.
In the evening we went out to an Irish Pub which had almost no other people in it, so we were able to just sit and talk and enjoy each other's company as we ushered in the New Year. There was no New York party on TV, but we were able to see part of an Italian New Year's Party, and join in the countdown, even without being able to speak Italian. We could hear the fireworks exploding outside, but figured it was safer to stay inside until things had settled down and we could head home.
I've now celebrated New Years in 5 different countries. Pretty cool.
Public transport closed down early for the holiday, so we were left to try catching a taxi. Not an easy thing to do on a night when most of the city is out trying to catch one as well. It took a goodly long time for us to manage it, but we all appreciated not having to hike up the hill to the hostel.
Happy New Year 2009!
Now we come to the final day in Florence. Our train wasn't until nearly 10 in the evening, but we had to check out in the morning. Once things were settled at the hostel we headed into town for breakfast. I'd already eaten, but, it being our last day in Italy, I decided to try my first ever cappuccino. It was pretty tasty, but I've been informed I've now been spoiled and nothing else will ever compare, so perhaps it will be my first and final cappuccino.
We went to the train station and dropped off our bags, then wandered around the city a bit more. Most shops were closed, and the skies were gray and drippy. We entertained ourselves with window shopping games. We'd try to guess what someone in the group would chose from a particular store front. It was good fun. For lunch we went to the pizza place from the day before. My pizza selection was greatly improved this time, and they remembered that I ordered, so it worked out nicely.

Then we went on a Fanta sampling spree. We tried three new flavors: Chinotto - which was supposed to resemble a cola - Icy Limone, and Red Emotion. Except for the Chinotto, which ended up being positively nasty, the experience was very pleasant :)

We wandered in and just looked at the sites a while before plopping ourselves down in a super crowded cafe. We spent a good three hours there just chatting and listening to the amiable Italian banter around us. Then it was off to the train station once again.

Our return trip, although much quieter, was even less comfortable. We didn't have beds this time, and it just isn't very easy to sleep in a full train compartment with no beds. Even with our feet balanced on the opposite side of the car, there was always some point of the body experiencing too much pressure, with another floating over space, producing the feeling of falling on a regular basis. It was a relief, really, to have to be awake when we arrived in Munich around 6 AM. A little dose of Starbucks really improved the situation as well! We were there a couple of hours, then the Nurnberg, where we had lunch, then to Marktredwitz where we had a really short transfer time, and then, at long last, back to Cheb.
Gotta say, it was quite a trip.

No comments: