Wednesday morning we got up early to catch a train to Florence. The ride ended up being about four hours long, since we bought the cheapest tickets possible, and there wasn’t much we could do besides sleep and watch the beautiful Tuscan scenery go by.
Once in Florence, we meandered our way through the city to our hostel, aided only by our keen sense of direction and a rough map Rick provided. While our hostel in Rome wasn’t disgusting by any means, this hostel seemed like a palace. We’ve since learned it’s a more typical hostel—real front desk, real kitchen, Internet access, clean towels, etc. When we check in they informed us that they upgraded us to a four-person room—meaning a private room just for us. Once again we were spoiled and free to leave our stuff all over the room—no need to lock it up.
We went on an excursion to find a restaurant for lunch, and thanks to Rick, we found a place that was so delicious and so cheap. It felt like a big family dining room—red checkered table cloths, benches, little English spoken. I had some minestrone soup that was unlike any I’d had before, and the bread was fresh and perfect.
When we emerged with happy tummies, we were delighted by the beautiful weather. Absolutely clear skies, and a bright, bright sun making us squint and sweat. In the weeks of overcast Oxford I had forgotten how shocking the sun can be. We wandered our way over to the Uffizi Gallery and walked right in. Apparently lines to enter in the summer can be over two hours long. Like the Vatican, the Uffizi is a beautified cattle chute—once you’re in, you can’t leave. But unlike the Vatican, we all stayed together and the crowds weren’t bad at all.
The days of AP Euro came soaring back to my memory as I gazed upon Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and an Oxford lecture from only a few weeks before made me sound like an expert on his Primavera. We stayed in the Botticelli room for a long, long time, resting our aching feet and gazing on the works hanging all around the room. He’s by far one of my favorite painters, and his style and subjects are so diverse. These two in particular seemed even more significant in real life, and they were enormous. Nothing like the 2x3 image in a textbook.
More under the jump!
More under the jump!
When we finally emerged from the exit, hours later, we were in desperate need of a gelato revival. I got peanut butter next to coffee chocolate chip, and I’m pretty sure that’s all they serve in heaven. My mouth is watering just remembering it.
We took some down time back at the hostel. The stress of trains and the overwhelming art was starting to get to us. While we sat in our room with the door open, another guest felt compelled to come talk to us. She was probably mid-40s, thin, frizzy ginger hair, from Michigan or Wisconsin or Minnesota. Or maybe Oregon. I can’t remember. She stood in the doorway.
“Wow, you girls have really made yourselves at home,” she said, motioning to clothes and shoes strewn across the floor.
“Oh, uh, yeah,” I said. “It’s just us three, so why not?”
She laughed haltingly. “So where are you from?” she asked.
Annie said, “We all go to school in Missouri, but we’re studying at Oxford this year. I’m from Kansas.”
“Cool, cool,” she replied, nodding her head enthusiastically. “I’m from [wherever].”
“Cool,” we echoed. “Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, still nodding. Still looking at us.
“Well,” I ventured. “Guess we’ll see you around?”
“Sure, sure,” she said. Nod nod. Finally, she walked away.
Annie and I looked at each other and shrugged. We’d been deprived of such experiences in the Rome hostel—surely this had to be part of the hostel life.
Not more than thirty seconds later she was back.
“You know how all the rooms have names?” she asked.
“Yeah,” we said.
“Well, yours is ‘Pazzi’.”
“Do you know what ‘Pazzi’ means?”
“It means ‘the crazies.’ Like, the plural form of the noun. And I like how you all are really working to make that a reality here,” she said, accompanied with a look that clearly meant I’m in with the hip American college crowd… Y’all are here to par-tay!
“Ha… ha…” I said. Said—not laughed. What was this woman on? We weren’t wearing make-up, we hadn’t showered, and we were bundled up to our chins. What part of us screamed “The Crazies”?
She finally wandered off, and we collected ourselves and set off for dinner. Let me tell you right now—Annie Papineau is a goddess with a map. We called her Columbus, and we weren’t really joking. We had picked a restaurant on the other side of town, which isn’t really saying much, but not only did Annie get us there, she got us there going the back streets. It’s amazing. If you ever get a chance to watch her in action, I recommend it.
The restaurant we went to was called Il Pirata—the Pirate—and we chose it for its unlimited BUFFET. All the food was sitting on a table, and it did have to be microwaved, but we could eat as much as we wanted, and it was GOOD. Thanks again, Rick. The white tiles on the walls of the restaurant were covered in signatures, cartoons, quotes, and promises to return from satisfied customers. We left our mark in a corner, saying, “We came because Rick Steves told us to, but we came back for seconds because it was THAT good!” So if you’re ever in Florence, go to Il Pirata and check it out.
Full and happy (have you caught onto this theme yet?), we set out to wander. We turned a corner and whoa—there was the Duomo. Unexpected. Unlike the outside of any building I’ve seen before or since. Gorgeous and gothic and gargantuan. We walked all the way around it, exploring the streets branching out from it, looking for a gelato place called Grom.
We gave up and sat down at a place right on the square that served waffles with their gelato. They smelled amazing, but Annie and I stuck to paper cups. Maura took the leap, though. The guy behind the counter, Beni, took to her immediately, especially after she mispronounced “vaniglia”. My turn was coming, though—I ordered chocolate and banana, and he mimicked the way I say “banana,” following it up with, “Ohhh myyyy Godddd,” the typical phrase for those who want to mock dumb American girls as seen on The Hills, etc. As we sat eating, Beni came over and asked us how it all was, saying “banana” in a nasaly, girly voice again. Cool. He then invited us to go to a student nightclub with him when he got off work. Maura took the lead on this one and said, “Oh, um, we have to go to bed early… yeah…” Nonetheless, he gave Maura his business card and told her to friend him on Facebook. When we went to the counter to pay, he gave Maura a significant discount on her waffle concoction. But when Annie followed behind her, he just said, “No discount for you,” and charged her and me both the full price.
The next morning we packed up our bags, ate breakfast at a nearby “discount” place (where I accidentally ordered hot, foamy milk and had to drink it and pretend like it was what I wanted), and set out to see the rest of the city. We went back to the Duomo, and Maura watched our bags while Annie and I went in to look around. It was beautiful on the inside, too, and I bought my mom a snow globe—While You Were Sleeping, anyone?
We then spent a long time strolling the San Lorenzo market. Annie and I made a new friend from India, after telling him we were British, and he gave us matching friendship bracelets and offered us a discount on anything in his booth. Too bad it was all ugly.
I bought my sister some earrings and a giant wool scarf for myself. Lots of banter from the booth-keepers, and one guy kept yelling “Long live Palestine!” at us. Possibly because of Annie’s houndstooth scarf, but we’ll never know. The same guy offered us wine and discounts, but we politely refused.
After another gelato stop (pistachio and almond) we arrived at the Accademia Gallery. Again, there was absolutely no line, but they weren’t too happy with our giant backpacks and Maura’s rolling duffle. We left and found a nearby McDonald’s. Maura planted herself in a corner and watched all of our stuff so Annie and I could go back to the Accademia.
We got through without any problems this time, and started our visit in a temporary exhibit of Mapplethorpe, an American photographer from the 70s who idolized Michelangelo and strived to photograph humans so they looked like statues. After that exhibit, we turned into a couple rooms of paintings, which were pretty much the same kind of stuff we had seen over the past couple of days. We went through another doorway, and I looked to my left to see a bunch of half-finished statues.
Then Annie jammed her elbow into my ribs and said, “Look!”
I whipped my head to the right, and there he was.
In all my AP Euro and art education, I’d seen dozens of pictures of Michelangelo’s David. NONE of them captured what I was seeing in front of me. First of all, he’s seventeen feet tall—not life-sized, like I had always thought.
Second, I had only seen pictures from the front, which meant his face was always turned away from me, rendering his expression, well, boring. I’d always thought he was a bit overrated, to be honest.
But now, he was in front of me, in 360 degrees of marble glory. I slowly walked around him, mouth open in utter awe. I could see the joints in his toes, the veins in his elbows, the slight indention the slingshot was making in his shoulder.
When I came to a place where I could see him face-to-face, though, is when I fell in love. No wonder I hadn’t ever seen his expression before—it’s beautiful subtle. Unlike other representations of David and Goliath at the time, Michelangelo’s David isn’t standing with his foot on Goliath’s head, celebrating his victory. He’s gazing off into the distance, trying to calculate his aim and the difficulty and the wind and the noises of battle and the consequences of a defeat. He’s seeing the giant’s head appearing above the hills, he’s counting the seconds until he can release the fatal stone from his slingshot, he’s wondering why this impossible job has been left to him. He’s disconcerted, confident, and steady.
Annie and I found chairs against a wall that would allow us to just stare for a while. I felt as though my eyes weren’t big enough to take him all in at once. I half expected him to start breathing at any moment.
David was magnificent.
The rest of the museum was a letdown, but it didn’t really matter. It had a different floor plan than the others we had visited, so we’d go look at some paintings and sculptures and then ultimately return to stare at David a little longer.
After reuniting with Maura and a quick lunch at McDonald’s, we made our way to the train station to purchase our tickets and wait for the train to Venice. Annie and I struck up a conversation with the NYU kid sitting next to us while Maura searched frantically for an ATM that would accept her card, but his group found him and Maura returned unsuccessful.
We had positioned ourselves to see the information screen, and we were waiting for our platform number to be posted. Our train appeared… but no platform number. With eight minutes until departure, it appeared—Platform 9.
“Alright,” I said. “Let’s go.” Annie and I hefted our backpacks onto our shoulders, snapped the snaps, buckled the buckles.
Maura gasped. “I can’t find my ticket,” she said.
We stared at her for a moment while she began tearing through her bags.
“Is that a joke?” I asked (upon reflection, completely insensitively).
“No!” she said, her voice growing more frantic. “I thought a couple minutes ago, ‘Oh, I don’t know where my ticket is,’ so I found it and looked at it, and now I have no idea what I did with it!”
Annie and I took off our backpacks and looked through them, to make sure we hadn’t picked it up by mistake. Nothing.
I looked at the information board—our train was leaving in four minutes.
“Maura,” I said. “You have to go buy another ticket. Our train is going to leave!”
“Okay, okay,” she said, still furiously searching through her bags.
“MAURA!” I shouted. “GO BUY ANOTHER TICKET RIGHT NOW!”
“Okay!” she shouted back, and she ran to the ticket booth. Annie and I took the bags over to the platform and stood in front of the train. I had my eyes glued to the clock—every second that ticked marked an increase in my blood pressure. The adrenaline was pumping so swiftly that I couldn’t even keep still. I jumped from one foot to the other, unsure if I should burst into tears or incoherent screaming.
Maura emerged from the office, sprinting to the platform, waving her new ticket.
“Get it validated!” we yelled, pointing to the yellow box on a nearby column.
The machine, of course, wouldn’t cooperate, and it took Maura and Annie to wrestle the ticket inside and get the appropriate stamp. We looked at the clock.
Annie and I were in coach 9—the very last one. We took off. With an internal frame hiking backpack bouncing on my shoulders, I ran faster than I have in a long, long time. I think I was on par to beat Usain Bolt’s record.
Maura disappeared into her coach behind us, and Annie and I clambered aboard ours, panting heavily. Amidst the stares, we found two seats and collapsed in them. The lady across from us assured us we were on the right train, and we breathed a sigh of relief. It took me the whole two-hour train ride to recover.