11:30 AM Arrived in Florence from Naples. This is a late addition to the itinerary that Lisa came up with for John’s 50th. Originally we were going to spend 5 days in Pompei, using it as a hub to visit all the ruins in the area. This was, in fact, John’s original pie-in-the-sky suggestion. However, there was news that percolated up about a “once-in-a-lifetime” exhibition of Donatello’s work in Florence, particularly his sculpture. Two different museums were involved in displaying pieces on loan from around the world. Not that John knows diddlysquat about Donatello, but one of his long term goals is to study art history and this seemed like an
ideal excuse excellent educational opportunity available in Florence. So, Lisa (being in love with the goofus) arranged a day-trip(!) to see the exhibition. And here we are. Anyway, we had a little time so we sat across from the Duomo and had a light lunch.
Short aside: the very idea of having a meal across from a world class cultural icon that is in no way on our agenda and is simply a backdrop for lunch sums up an aspect of our new life. The shift from “this is the trip to Italy, how much can we pack in?” to “meh, day trip to Florence, why not?” is still a little surreal to us, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t enjoying the surrealism.
12:30 PM 1st leg of the exhibition at the National Museum of the Bargello. The Bargello is a converted castle-like object (CLO) that now houses a fairly eclectic collection. Truth be told, I’m not sure that they’d otherwise have made the cut for being 1/2 of this exhibition, except that they already were the home of some key pieces by Donatello. In John’s mind, how it went down is that the other museum asked to borrow their prized Donatellos for the exhibition and the folks at the Bargello said “bugger that, put our name on the flyer” only in Italian. That said, it was an incredibly educational exhibition. The highlight was a very simple bas relief (John’s word, there was some other fancy term for it) of the Madonna and Child from 1420. Now if we had walked past it in a regular exhibition we would have thought “huh, nice Jesus art” and moved on to the next Jesus art. (If you go to a lot of museums you get a lot of Jesus art. I don’t care what your faith is, it can get old after awhile.) But in this exhibition they went to great lengths to explain that this was, in fact, the first time that these subjects had been portrayed simply looking at one another without regard for the viewer. Strange to think about, but it’s kinda like how the Matrix was only ground-breaking in the context of its time; there’s been a thousand Matrixes since then. Anyway, they then showed examples of other great masters of later times (e.g. the other three Turtles) having sought out this piece and sketched it into their notes for inspiration. It’s one thing to say “Donatello was an inspiration to later masters of the Renaissance” but this exhibition had, as the kids say, the receipts. They did a great job with that in several instances. We can’t recap the whole thing piece-by-piece, but it was very thoughtfully done.
1:30 PM Took a break at a different cafe across from a different, shade-bearing side of the Duomo and had drinks. We thought through our options for the day and decided that if we could get in to the 2nd museum earlier than our timed-entrance tickets allowed for we might try to get an earlier train back to Naples, so as not to be up so late. For we are old.
Another short aside: more and more we are realizing that things like non-refundable tickets to save a few bucks are turning out to be bad ideas. We are just getting more and more comfortable with making changes at the last minute, and hamstringing ourselves with that kind of ticket is turning out to be a pain in the patootie.
2:30 PM 2nd leg of the exhibition, at the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi. We do indeed get admitted an hour+ early. We are mildly shamed to admit that, rather than requesting to be allowed early entry, we simply presented our tickets and leaned into the language barrier. Sure enough, the look on the attendant’s face clearly said “I don’t want to have to explain to these yokels that their tickets are for a later time, they’re probably Americans and will lose their shit, sooo” and waved us in. This leg of the exhibition is more robust, with a broader cross-section of Donatello’s work. It is certainly true that a person can go a bit snow-blind at an exhibition like this, and maybe in a different world we’d have stayed another day and split it up. Still, it was a hell of an experience.
3:30 PM We finished up with the exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi, then made our way to the train station. We had looked it up ahead of time, we were certain that there were definitely several options for earlier trains that we could take. Oops. Remember our little aside, above, about the non-refundable tickets? Yeah, that’s the kind we had: Non-refundable, non-transferable tickets. It was certainly possible for us to eat the old tickets and just buy new ones, but … well, big financial talks are for another time, but setting fire to money like that isn’t a habit we wanted to get into. So, we decided to stick to our original train.
4:30 PM Thwarted in our attempt to head home early, we now confronted a four-hour wait. This normally wouldn’t be so bad (“oh no, 4 extra hours in Florence!”) but quite frankly we were tired. It had been a lot of walking up and down stairs for the exhibitions themselves, and getting around the city just added to it. You know how people say that making your dog do mentally stimulating games and tasks can be just as tiring as going for a long run? Well, woof woof. Plus, trying to get into anywhere interesting at 5 PM with no advance ticket purchases would mean standing in line with, it seemed, the entirety of Italy’s high school senior classes. Eyugh. And so, we wandered until we found a likely looking spot and nestled in at Osteria La Scala. And by “found a spot” we mean “were thwarted in entering several restaurants that claimed to be open but absolutely were not.” It was one last stretch of walking, we were well and truly pooped as we sat down.
5:30 PM We grazed lazily trough the menu. With time to loll, our conversation drifted far and wide. We talked about our favorite Italian cities and how Naples definitely isn’t one of them. We concluded that if you set Venice aside (John said “non-theme park, regular cities”, the party pooper) that Florence probably had the best vibe to it of the places we’d been. Granted we really our neophytes in the grand scheme of thing so it is far from an exhaustive list for us to choose from. Darn, more research to be done.
6:30 PM As we wound down dinner we happened to struck up conversations with other diners who recognized that we were speaking English. We met a lovely couple from up-state New York who made the mistake of asking us about our move to Portugal. As has always been true, if you stick a dime in John he will play. And he plllaaaaaayed and played. We think we actually learned things about how we felt that even we didn’t know. This was the second time in about a month that we inadvertently became tremendous advocates for immigrating to Portugal. Who’da thunk?
7:30 PM We moved to a different restaurant because, even with the famous European sensibility of taking all the time you want for your meals, we felt guilty about tying up a table so long for a fairly modest check. The next place was also very nice, and John decided he had enough evidence to conclude that his “swing a cat, hit a good Italian restaurant” theory had been proven. In brief: no matter how “touristy” a restaurant may appear – in a heavily-trafficked tourist zone, on a main avenue, with barkers handing out flyers, and signage in English – almost all restaurants in Italy are still the result of individuals who want to own a restaurant. Very few chains exist, and those are pretty easily identified. As a result, even the places with barkers and/or (gulp) pictures on the menu can and will serve up a lovely meal upon request.
8:30 PM We were briefly, but extremely, dismayed by a posted delay to our train’s departure time, but soon enough we board our train and head back to Naples. The ride back was quiet, and other than getting completely screwed at the taxi stand at the Naples train station (seriously, f#@& that place) we make it back into our bed with no drama. And thus our whirlwind day trip to Florence came to a close, as does this post. See you next time when we wrap up our trip.