After Monte Carlo, we sailed to Livorno, our first stop in Italy and the port for reaching Pisa and Florence. It would have been cool to see the Leaning Tower, but we opted to spend the full day in Florence instead, as it was our first visit ever to this magnificent city.
Being a tourist in Florence requires a little multitasking. First of all, you are walking all day on cobblestones and uneven bricks down narrow streets, often with little Italian cars and motor scooters whizzing right by your side, so you must pay attention to where you are putting your feet at every step. If you are on a tour, you are likely wearing what the tour guides call "the whisper," a small radio receiver around your neck, and a bluetooth wannabe looking earpiece on your head. To this you must add your camera (assuming you are the designated photographer, as I am), your bottle of water, and your purse or totebag, which must also be under your constant surveillance due to the abundance of pickpockets in heavily populated tourist areas. Whew! Add to this temperatures exceeding 100 degrees fahrenheit, no shady trees or benches, and you get the picture. It's not easy being a tourist.
But that doesn't stop us from coming. Florence was swarming with people at every corner and every attraction; tourists from every country in the world (and not, I might add, a whole lot of Americans this time), bus loads of high school and college age kids, bus loads from the cruise ships, throngs of people everywhere you go. The next time I do Florence (and other cities visited on this trip) I will go before June or after August, when both the crowds and the temperature have dropped to more comfortable levels.
This is the city of the Medici and grand high ornament carried to extreme. I found myself marveling at the architecture of larger structures, but totally captivated by the details. It is also the city of Michaelangelo, Dante, and Galileo and bigger than life sculptures and paintings that look oh, so familiar when you finally see them in real time.
Our day started with a walking tour to the Duomo (main cathedral), past artists' studios and other points of interest until we reached the Medici palace and the Uffizi museum. Adjacent is the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that crosses the Arno River. Those charming little huts that seem to be stuck to the side of the bridge were the studios of the craftsmen in the days of the Medici rule.
We had some free time in the afternoon and were able to secure tickets to go inside the Uffizi gallery to see the paintings whose lectures I slept through as a freshman in Art History back in the day. (Class started at 8 am; by 8:20, when the lights went down for the slides, pretty much everyone was back to sleep until the lights came up again--guaranteed 40 minute power nap, three times a week.) There were so many, it was a bit overwhelming visually until we invented a little game called "find the book in the painting." And, by golly, we did find one or more books in just about every painting!
After two hours of uber-culture, we went out into the streets in search of paper and more architectural details to photograph. More on these topics tomorrow!