Day 17: My Own Room

Today was supposed to be a full day in Florence, but that was scrapped because we didn’t make it to Florence, only as far Pisa. Today we finished the journey and settle with an afternoon in Florence.

We started off the day with Ellen and Dad going to get the replacement car. It wasn’t really a replacement car so much as a replacement van. It seated nine, in a three-by-three configuration, and was outfitted like a professional van (as opposed to our previous luxury car).

Being a van, it was big. At least we had plenty of room – all of our bags fit in the cargo space, and Ryan got an entire bench seat to himself.

It was also a manual, so Dad had to remember how to drive a manual. He has yet to stall it (as of writing, several days later), so maybe driving a manual is like riding a bike. You never forget.

And yes, this car is so big that three can sit in the front row.

The morning started with continental breakfast, then getting into the van for the hour-long trip to Florence. The trip was uneventful, driving through beautiful countryside, until we got to Florence.

Italian roads are, like French roads, smaller than the nice American roads we’re used to. Our new replacement car is bigger. It didn’t fit in any parking spots we saw near our apartment, not that we saw many, and once we found a parking garage we scraped the top of the van against the height limit bar.

Not a problem, except that the parking garage was behind an open-air market that had been setup in the piazza. Backing out meant backing up a long ramp through several sharp corners that we had barely been able to navigate going forward. I jumped out and tried in vain to direct the van backwards, but we couldn’t even navigate the first corner. Eventually someone came up behind us and convinced Dad that just because the van hit the height bar didn’t mean it wouldn’t fit in the garage. So Dad inched the van to a spot while I walked around it making sure it didn’t rub anything. (I also climbed on top to remove the antenna)

The van fit, if only barely.

We didn’t want to drag all of our bags the kilometer to the flat, at least not yet, so we walked there without bags. We checked in, got settled, and eventually went out to meet a friend of Kayla’s for lunch. She gave us some tips on places to walk by on our whirlwind survey tour of Florence.

Florence was, long ago, the center of art in the Western world. This may have changed, or may still be true, but I think they’re definitely the center of clever street sign vandalism. All over we saw clever modifications to street signs, here’s a sampling.

There were quite a few of these around town.

There were a couple of these as well, but not as many.

On some of them, it was hard to tell which parts had been added by the vandal.

Another thing we saw throughout the city were leather shops branded with famous people of sculptures, such as this David Leather Factory.

Or this DaVinci Leather Factory

Anyway, after a late lunch we started the run through the city with some gelato, because you can’t go wrong with that, especially on a hot day. Looking at a map, we decided to walk to the Ponte Vecchio first, by walking down to the river and then walking up the river.

The way the streets are built, narrow with tall apartments on either side, it’s easy to walk around a corner straight into a giant domed cathedral without any warning that it’s coming.

Along the way we walked into a procession of people dressed in Renaissance-style clothing, playing various drums and instruments. We ran into the procession in front of a church with a statue of Dante, and out of curiosity followed them to the Piazza Uffizi, where we found the award ceremony for a field archery competition. The square was filled to the edges with groups of people waving their flags and sporting their country’s shirts.

Apparently somebody was worried that their Mom was doting on them.

We pushed our way into the throng of people in the square so we could look at the statues surrounding the square, including a copy of David.

As well as Medusa’s last moments:

We ducked into the clocktower on one side of the square to see what was inside, before heading toward the Ponte Vecchio.

The Ponte Vecchio (Ponte being Italian for bridge, maybe?) was apparently where they used to slaughter animals. One of the Medicis had a palace on one side of the bridge, so she walked along it often. She wasn’t a fan of the animal slaughtering, so she made them stop – now it’s a bunch of shops.

Yes, that is a picture of a bridge.

The shops are mostly classy jewelery and fashion shops, as seems typical for touristy areas (you can tell which restaurants are frequented by tourists because they put ice in the soda. If you order a coke and don’t get ice, you know it’s the real deal).

It’s been interesting to see which places give ice by default and which don’t. In France, many places gave ice, to the point that I was surprised when we stopped getting it in Switzerland and Italy.

Regardless, the shops still retain a medieval feel, with heavy wood doors closed by unusual contraptions.

We crossed over the Ponte Vecchio to walk to the Piazza Michelangelo, which was supposed to be elevated and so have a beautiful view of sunset over the city. It also had the other copy of David, in bronze.

We stopped in a bar along the way to order water. We had left all of our things in the car, including my shoulder bag, which had my waterbottle. So I didn’t have to carry my water bottle, but I didn’t get water either.

The practice of bottled water here seems strange to me. I suppose it makes sense in a region where leaded pipes were quite common, but with Europe being so liberal I would’ve expected bottled water to be outlawed, especially in the thin plastic bottles. Even in Texas, restaurants are required to give you water for free if you ask, and Texas is infamous for our libertarian views.

Anyway, after we drank some water and with sunset fast approaching, we left for the Piazza and I ran up the several hundred steps. Jason got tired halfway through, so he stopped. I got tired too, but kept going.

It may look like a normal street, but that’s actually about thirty degrees uphill. Look at the rock wall on the left.

The view was worth it, but it was also worth it for thousands of other people who got here before us, so it was a little tricky to elbow our way to the railing. Once we got there the view was better.

We watched the sun set behind the mountains. We marveled at the skyline of Florence, which was a flat field of 5 story buildings as far as the eye could see (up to where mountains jutted up through the buildings), with a handful of churches and clocktowers jutting up through the buildings. Vastly different from the American or British (or even Paris, but closer to Paris) skylines, where there are clusters of supertall skyscrapers.

After the sun set, and we had looked at the night skyline for a while, we all posed by the bronze David and started wandering back to our car. As before, it seemed that around every corner was some building or statue of note – you’d be walking between apartment buildings and turn a corner and bam, there’s a statue of Dante.

It being night, it was hard to take pictures of many of the things we saw on the way back. But we did get to see the Piazza Uffizi, where the field archery celebration was,  when it was devoid of people.

After walking through the streets using my trusty tourist map, we made it to the car and grabbed our bags. The walk back to the flat was several blocks, so carrying our bags over the cobblestone roads and sidewalks got a little tiring. We did eventually make it, though, and divied up rooms, showered, and went to sleep.

This is the first time I’ve slept in a room alone since I left the US. After the traveling of the past few days, it was nice to have a little space for a few hours before we left the next morning for Verona.


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