How about Florence?

Of all the places we visited, Florence was the most familiar and brought back the most memories from prior visits — once during college and then with friends in the mid-nineties. We arrived late in the evening and took a quick walk to the Piazza del Duomo before walking back to our hotel.  To the left is Giotto’s Bell Tower a freestanding tower that is part of the Florence Cathedral.

Pandemic restrictions meant that when we visited the Galleria dell’Academia, we could see the David right up close.  No tourists ringed five deep jostling for a view and a photo. What can one say about this magnificent sculpture that hasn’t been said before?  I think no words at all. I will simply offer awe and gratitude that Michaelangelo Buonarotti was born and answered an unceasing call to create. That at the age of 26, he turned the world of sculpture on its head when his chisel met a new block of marble. That he lived to the age of 88 and up until nearly his final breath labored to wrench meaning and narrative from stone.

Our three hours in the Uffizi passed quicker than the Arno flows beneath the Ponte Vecchio.  The collections have been reorganized in such a way that a visitor can move through the entire museum methodically and easily. It also helped that, as with viewing the David, there were many fewer people than normal. The most poignant moment was watching a docent describe a statue to a sightless man who moved his (archivist gloved) hands over the statue as the docent spoke.  There are many ways to appreciate works of art.

I spent a lot of time in the portrait galleries, taking in the reality that the artists’ subjects had all lived once upon a time. I’ll share these two by the Italian artist Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo, 1503 – 1572). Centuries later, the subjects’ faces are still luminous; their clothes look as if they’ve just been taken from the wardrobe.

Little Bia (Bianca) de Medici, the illegitimate daughter of Cosimo I de’Medici, died soon after her portrait was painted. The use of the deep blue against her white dress takes my breath away. This shade of blue was often requested by those commissioning portraits and other paintings. The paint, made from crushed lapis lazuli, was quite costly, a detail recognized by the Joneses of the day and those trying to keep up with them.

In contrast to little Bia’s portrait, Bronzino placed his subject, Lucrezia Panciatichi, against a barely discernable background. To my eye, this choice “disembodies” her. She doesn’t seem anchored. But oh those sleeves…

 

In Florence, as everywhere else, we spent much of our days walking through history, crossing ancient bridges, passing under arches and marveling at how much that was old was also completely contemporary.

Strolling over the Ponte Vecchio.

Play “Where’s Debra” in this photo of the outdoor sculpture garden of Piazza della Signoria

Martin could tell you how many steps it took to reach this overlook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now let’s head to the Amalfi Coast!

Photo of Giotto’s Belltower courtesy of Martin Darvick.
Others on this page courtesy of Debra Darvick.

How Was Your Trip?

Fabulous. Amazing. Wonderful. I’m not given to sports analogies, but Martin knocked it out of the park. And then some. I won’t give you a day by day description, but will offer somewhat ordered stream-of-conscious impressions and memories. In the Bookshelf, Martin mentioned Firebird Tours who provided the tour.  They get huge shouts out from me as well. This was our third attempt to take a trip that had been in the planning since early 2019.  They went above and beyond; every staff member responded to our concerns patiently and with good information. I cannot recommend Firebird highly enough.

Traveling during a pandemic
What was planned for a spring 2020 40th anniversary celebration finally happened in the fall of 2021.  There was a lull in Covid cases. Italy’s vax stats were much better than those in the U.S. We set off with some trepidation and yet once we arrived we felt more at ease than in the States. Entry into the country required proof of two vaccinations and negative Covid test results no more than 72 hours before arrival. Proof of vaccinations were requested in restaurants, shops, and museums. In addition to verifying our vax status, the hotels also took a quick temp check before we could register. Mask compliance inside any building  was universal.

The Vibe
Everywhere we went, we were thanked for coming to Italy. The country was hit hard, fast, and early in the pandemic. Tourism evaporated. During our three weeks, we encountered no other Americans save for those on our trip and two couples in Como.  As I write today, the overseas travel situation has changed. We hit a sweet spot for which we are eternally grateful.

Language was no barrier. Everyone spoke English and with my French and Spanish I was able to decode what was written.  I could understand directions, order in restaurants and even make out bits and pieces of conversations. My attempts at speaking Italian were appreciated even when I guessed at a cognate from French or Spanish. One of our guides complemented my Italian accent, saying that most Americans she encountered couldn’t manage it. Made me feel like a million Euros.

The Weather
All I can say is that is was flawless. Sunny nearly every day. Two hours of rain one day. Warm to cool needing only a sweater. Perfetto!

The People
Italians are delightful. When they speak it sounds like champagne bubbles. They are warm, welcoming, and their  joie de vivre is contagious. We clicked nearly immediately with one couple on the tour. Randy and Katrina, who were close to our ages, were on their honeymoon. They were as enthusiastic about walking and exploring as we were. Enjoyment is always multiplied when shared with others and the two of them added so very much to our experience.

The Trains
Like the hotels, the trains were first class. Never crowded, complimentary treats (sweet, savory, and wine if you like), and fast! My ears popped a time or two. If only we could do this in America.

 

Quiet time on the train.

What a delightful way to travel!

 

Read on — How Was the Food?

Photos courtesy of Martin Darvick