Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 1: Firenze Via Roma

We left on a 9.40p overnight flight from Toronto to Rome and then transferred from Rome to Florence. R is smiling at the Fiumicino airport in Rome and I know why – already everything feels different. The airport and its shops are very chic and clean and easy to navigate even though we are (primarily) non-Italian speaking.

The Toronto to Rome flight was a fine, albeit sleepless, night for me. The only glitch is a delay in the flight from Rome to Florence which should take an hour but ends up taking three hours door to door. We sit, with no explanation, in the lounge for forty five minutes and another forty five minutes on the tarmac because there are too many planes waiting for take off.

We are to meet our friends V and P and their family in Firenze; they were coming from Germany and then Venice and meeting us there. We lost a crucial piece of luggage which contains all of our clothes and some toiletries for R and myself. After trying to track down the missing luggage we consequently miss the driver who was assigned to take us to the hotel. He had been waiting for two hours. No cell service on our phones makes everything more complicated (Note: this is through Bell Mobility apparently Rogers would have been fine).

No matter, we take a taxi from the airport for €24 and luckily find our friends waiting for us in the lobby of the Borghese Palace Art Hotel at Via Ghibellina, 174 which has an intriguing mix of modern art for sale in its lobby, a winding three storey glassed staircase through a courtyard and ultra modern furnishings in the hotel room as well as a very friendly and hospitable staff. My only gripe is the absence of easily accessible wifi in the rooms. We need a internet cord to connect in our rooms which I don't figure out for a few days.

One staff member told our friends that the palace was once owned by Napoleon's sister Pauline Bonaparte who had married Prince Camillo Borghese, one of - if not the - richest men in Italy at the time and resided in Firenze (this would have been about 200 years ago). One hundred years ago it was also a brothel. Hmmm....

Our friends have already been here for a day so have poked about and have found one or two nice little restaurants to try. We walk to the Ponte Vecchio and get our first glimpse of the Arno river (this photo above was taken from the Ponte Vecchio). The city is lousy with tourists like us – gum chewing, flip flop wearing, camera laden gawkers, crowding the streets as scooters, bicycles, buses and cars race by, narrowly missing pedestrians. No wonder Europeans dislike us when they see slatternly teenagers taking off their shoes and examining their blistered feet and complaining loudly to all and sundry. I don't find the Fiorentines (except fro our hotel staff) to be terribly friendly. The locals on the street are clearly visible - they are the men wearing tailored slacks in 40 degree weather while the tourists are schlepping around in baggy shorts and dirty sandals.

The city is a visual revelation with female constables, cigarette hanging from mouth; an older woman long skirt and scarf, possibly a Romi, and her little dog on the streets begging; a tower of Babel – Brits, Germans, Northern Europeans, Italians from other parts of Italy, real housewives from New Jersey (judging by the accents), Spaniards, Americans, Canucks, pinkish red South Africans, Asian tour groups armed with umbrellas and fans.

The oldest parts of Firenze have a fortress like feel at times reflecting the medieval nature of the architecture. It is relatively clean with very little litter although the city has a worn down feeling at times. But there is something about the light here ... everything is imbued with lovely golden glow in our pictures.

We have dinner at Mamma Gina Ristorante – moderately priced and friendly if a bit dull – waited on by a server who used to live in Wisconsin, given away by his fairly good English.

We pass through the Piazza della Signoria (Rulers’ Square) and the Palazzo Vecchio and get our first taste of gelato at the Queen Victoria Gelateria. The name seems odd to me but later we learn that the queen had a residence in Fiesole, a little town in the hills just outside of Firenze (more on that later).

We saw the exact spot in the Piazza where Girolamo Savonarola was executed. On the day of his execution he was taken along with Fra Silvestro and Fra Domenico da Pescia to the piazza.
The three were ritually stripped of their clerical vestments, degraded as "heretics and schismatics", and given over to the secular authorities to be burned. The three were hanged in chains from a single cross and an enormous fire was lit beneath them.
Nice. A circular inscribed stone marks the place. The piazza had, that night, a troop of Spanish girls singing and dancing at one corner and many young students who seemed to be passing through the piazza.

Because I had not slept at all on the flight I crashed sideways on the bed at 11 o’clock, not hearing R’s phone call to my mother nor J’s call to a friend. R has to nudge me to sleep properly on the bed. I slept the sleep of the wicked till morning. It’s quiet and dark and verrry comfortable in our room.

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