Stop and Stare

Literary realist Henry James once said that, “Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine,” And I find his imagery both charming and accurate. Florence was beautiful, and as I stated earlier, it took my breath away.

Rome may be older and full of ruins, but Firenze is artistically medieval and stands tall with age. The Arno River cuts through the small town like the swift stroke of a paint brush and we crossed that river many times, over many different bridges over the course of our 48 hours in Tuscany. They say when the Nazi’s occupied this region of Italy orders were give to destroy every bridge crossing the Argo. Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge) alone remained intact, and we walked across that bridge lined with leather shops and expensive jewelers on our first excursion out into the city.

Friday afternoon, after a lunch of panini, we spent our day at the Academia museum. We wandered the museum fill with art, filling our minds with images of medieval triptychs bearing far too much gold paint. Unexpectedly, we rounded a corner and there he stood. The noonday day sunlight streamed through the domed skylights above him and the white marble of his arms and chest sparkled in the natural light. I hadn’t realized he was so tall. So incredibly tall... As a friend of mine said, “It’s no wonder Bathsheba fell for him!” Seeing Michelangelo’s statue of David was certainly the highlight of my Friday. I had not expected to be so impressed by such a renowned sculpture. I was sure he was overrated. He wasn't. At all. He was beautiful.

As the afternoon ended, we exited the museum and began to walk down the streets where vendors laid prints of famous artwork on the cobblestones and begged us to buy, we rode the bus up to point high above the city to watch the sun set over Firenze. Again, Florence took my breath away. The horizon dissolved into a palate of orange and violet light while the lights on the bridges slowly illuminated the coming darkness. Twilight set in and the shadows of the domes towering about the masses lengthened till the shadows could no longer be differentiated from the darkness itself. The lights of motorbikes and smart cars wound along the river like a string of translucent pearls shining like stars on the streets. I snapped pictures and breathed deeply and shivered as the Tuscan sun sank completely and the cool night whirled around the hills and tangled my hair before my eyes.

Saturday was both similar and different to our first day in the quiet city. Many of us rose early and headed off to the outdoor market where vendors were setting up white tents to sell leather and silver and pashmina scarves in abundance. Our breath fogged in the early morning air. We shopped for several hours before we had to meet Dr. Szabo at the Uffizi Museum at 10:45.That was when my adventure began.

M and I left the market in plenty of time to reach the Palazzo Vecchio in time for our appointment at the Uffizi. We carefully walked down the narrow streets and around quiet corners, thinking we knew where we were headed. Suddenly we found ourselves in a piazza. It was a piazza with an unrecognizable church in an unknown square with vendors selling wooden puppets and clay whistles. It was 11:45am and we had no idea where we were.

They say you can never get lost in Florence because the Duomo of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is always visible and you can find your way back to the duomo without trouble if need be. Yet from where we stood there was no sign of Brunellesci’s dome, nor could we find our way to the river or any of the Arno’s many bridges.
We stopped and using our limited Italian asked a woman who was wearing black boots how to get to the Piazza della Signoria.

“That way.” She pointed down the road to us, and told u we would have cross a bridge on the right eventually. Thanking her, we ran down the empty street, our shoulder bags thumping wildly against our backs as we stumbled over the uneven cobble stones. I've realized just how often I've had to run since I've been in Italy. Whether it be for train or ferry or because I’m lost in the middle of Florence, I seem to have to run everywhere I go…I’m not sure that is such a good revelation.

Incidentally, either the woman in black boots gave us wrong direction just for fun, or we hadn't asked the question correctly. After stopping to ask a postwoman how we could find our way to Piazza della Signora, she pointed us back the way we had come, all the way down the uneven street.
We walked.

We’d already missed the appointment with our professor and we knew they had all gone into the Uffizi without us already; running wasn’t going to help us anymore.

Back at the unknown plaza we asked a man selling marionettes which direction the Uffizi was and finally we found our way there. Inside the museum was the rest of our group, including our entry tickets. We expected as much. But we were still chaffing at having gotten so very lost. Despite all disappointment, we resolutely joined the line on art-lovers waiting to enter the Uffizi and for the next hour we stood waiting. I really cant say I regret that time at all. We were mad. We were tired and frustrated. Yet as we stood in the line, we prayed together that all would be resolved and that we would fins our group once we made it inside. As the hour passed, our anger dissipated. We eves dropped on the conversations around us (surprisingly many were in English) and snacked on apples we’d brought from Rome. It was an excellent thing we had thought to pack those apples, for the new tickets used up every Euro I’d budgeted for lunch. Obviously we skipped lunch that day, but it was well worth it. I am so thankful that we didn't give up and not enter the Uffizi at all.

La Pimavera. The Birth of Venus. The Adoration of the Magi and so many other works of art filled what were once the Medici offices during the height of Florentine power. I was utterly overwhelmed by the sheer number of masterpieces and artifact from the past that when it came time for us to depart, my mind was much too full to appreciate any more.

Melissa and I rejoined our group and followed Dr. Szabo to the unknown piazza with the unknown church that we had stumbled upon in our adventure of getting lost only a few hours before. The church, I now know, is called Snata Croce and inside I saw the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Macchiavelli and Rossini. It was all too much to take in; the lover of art and history inside of me was on overload, and I cannot remember what else we did that afternoon. I probably walked around in a blissful haze, happily listening to the church bells on the Duomo ring as I walked down the ancient streets that smelled of earthy wine and aged cheese.

Florence was beautiful. We left the next morning after a night of good food and great Italian hospitality. I want to go back soon. Next time I visit it shall be for much longer and I will do nothing but sit in the shadow of the Duomo and let Firenze steal my breath away.


  1. Oh, Katie, I loved this post! I'm so glad you loved Florence as much as I did. I've spoken to people who have only been there in the summer when there are two many tourists for the town to hold, and they didn't like it. (!) I was there in October also, and it stole my heart.

    I completely understand your reaction to David - simply the most amazing sculpture I've ever seen. Amanda and I spent a lot of time in the piazza de Santa Croce, watching the artists and vendors, etc. I loved the inside too; the sunlight making stained glass patterns on the floor...

    Anyway, if you go back, I recommend climbing to the top of the Duomo first thing in the morning. The church is still empty except for mass going on, and the sun is rising over the city. Plus, you get to see that amazing painted dome up close. And, if you go back, I have a lunch recommendation that you must, must, MUST take. So make sure you contact me first. :)

  2. Beautiful post, Katie! I'm glad you loved Florence so much (and that you were able to get into the Uffizi! :D). I agree that the "David" was truly magnificent -- I wasn't expecting to be so moved by it, but I was.


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