Milan, Lugano, Verona, Pisa, Lucca and Florence
Sept. 1 - 13, 2009
We had considered other locations for a journey to celebrate our twentieth anniversary but Italy seemed so right. We would see places that we had never been to and familiar sights as well that held special significance for us. I had dedicated a poem to my love that she would read on the same balcony where we had celebrated our tenth anniversary many years before. Perhaps we had bitten off a bit more than we might chew as no sooner would we settle into one place before we would need to pack for another. The plan would include both rental car and train. We offered special prayers during service just before we left to help insure against any problems that might occur.
We arrive at Sea-Tac for our 6:00 AM flight and are through security in no time. I purchased a paperback to read. “A Company of Liars” is set in 14th Century England with a colorful group of characters that use their wits to survive in advance of pestilence. We boarded onto our Delta flight en route to New York where we would endure a three-hour layover before continuing to Malpensa Airport outside of Milan where a shuttle bus would take us on into the industrial heart of Italy. The first leg of our flight was blessedly uneventful as I drank a bloody mary while buying the movie “Star Trek”. It helped the time pass and I also began my book while America retreated under our wings. Once we had transferred to our adjoining flight we settled in for the long trans-Atlantic crossing. I closed my eyes some and watched “Star Trek” again, this time for free. Anne watched a couple other films too.
We touched down at 8:30 AM on September 2nd, our actual anniversary and scheduled our pick-up shuttle into town. It wouldn’t arrive until 10:00 AM so we had time for a cappuccino and game of cribbage. It was muggy and fairly warm and was heating up quickly. The lift on the bus wasn’t working properly so when we arrived at the train station I was obliged to be lifted off by some passersby. For twenty American dollars we were offered the help of a man with a cart to our hotel, which was supposed to be fairly close by. We decided to push on ourselves and I waited briefly while Anne got directions.
She came back and we struggled down a few streets. I finally suggested that I park alongside a planter and let her forge ahead, get booked into our room and come back for me. I didn’t mind the long wait in the hot sun so much but the chain-smokers sitting by me were nauseating. After nearly an hour I was beginning to worry that something awful might’ve happened but I see a big smile on her face as she comes walking up the street. We’re both relieved that she has found the hotel but it is much further than we originally thought and she had gone off in the wrong direction initially.
Our room at the Hotel Sanpi is wheelchair friendly with a large bathroom and features a low and hard bed. After the many hours we’ve already been awake we are sorely tempted to lie down for a nap but fear that once we do there will be no getting up and we wish to get on local time. So after freshening up and studying the map for the most direct route to the Duomo we set out. It’s quite hot now but there are some clouds that beat back the sun’s rays occasionally. The Corso Buenos Aires turns into the Corso Venezia and borders the large public park. We had hoped to cut through the park but the loose gravel on the paths nullify that idea. We stop at a sidewalk cafe and share a mushroom pizza and aren’t quite sure whether this constitutes our lunch, dinner or simply a late-night midday snack but we’re ready to continue as the Corso again changes names to honor Victor Emmanuel.
From one end of the now pedestrian only street we can see the gleaming towers of the Duomo and it is a beautiful sight but I am more than a little distracted by the stylish ladies in their tight clothes and spiked heels. Anne too is swiveling her head to take in the designer parade. The last time we were here the piazza was completely torn up for repaving in preparation for the Vatican jubilee and it was difficult to get around. This time we can negotiate relatively easy and the throngs of people make this truly feel like the heart of the city. Partly to honor the Lord and partly to escape the heat we enter the sacred space of the Duomo just behind a lady who is refused admission by the guards on account of her bare shoulders. Our eyes gradually adjust to the dark confines and the exquisite carvings and brilliant stained glass windows come into focus. I seek a holy countenance and allow myself some prayers before a side altar depicting a lactating Madonna but either because of my exhausted state or lack of resolve I am not as filled with the Holy Spirit as I would hope. We admire the beauty of the artwork and are impressed with the gravity of our surroundings and slowly make our way towards the exit. I had hoped to be able to take the lift to the roof but it isn’t working today. We are told to try again tomorrow. Anne tells me her legs are beginning to buckle and we had better start back to the hotel. We share a hazelnut gelato and retrace our steps.
We had thought that we might just lie down for an hour or so and then get up for some dinner but once our heads are on the pillows we are out like lights and all we can think of is how good it will be to get a full night’s sleep. Our room is just off the lobby and there is a fair bit of noise from people checking in for the night that periodically disturbs our slumber but we are thankful to have a clean room and though the pillows are hard we sleep well through the rest of the night.
Anne knows what my desire is for the day. We had discussed various attractions and had hoped our hotel could secure tickets to Leonardo’s Last Supper. Alas, our concierge informs us that all tickets have been sold through the month but we could try and see if anyone cancels at the last minute. I am determined to see the excellent works at the Brera Pinocotecta and from our street map doesn’t appear to be that long of a hike. After our complimentary breakfast in the bar overlooking the elegant courtyard we start our day. It had rained some but is now dry and I’m quite comfortable with just a t-shirt on. Anne handles the curbs and cobblestones with her usual grace but now and then catches a corner. This causes me to get slightly twisted in my chair and we reconfigure my seat occasionally.
We skirt the park and follow the directions on our map and get to the Brera without too much trouble. My hopes of a free admittance are soon dashed as we fork over 20 Euros to get in. I immediately see why the collection is so renowned and recognize masterpieces by Mantegna, Bellini and Caracci. Naturally enough the vast majority of the paintings are by Italians and one side wing features modern works by Giacometti, Marini, De Chirico, Morandi and Boccioni and many others. We round a corner of one gallery and witness the early masterpiece by Raphael “The Marriage of the Virgin”. It has recently been cleaned and restored and shines with a special grace. It is unbelievable that he was barely 21 when he painted it. We had been in the church in Citta de Castello where it originally hung and are pleased to see an interpretive slide presentation on an adjoining wall that describes its history. Another surprise is the amazing “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio. We had seen the more famous version at the National Gallery in London and though this one is darker and lacks the variety of color it is still a wonder and I feel fortunate to be able to compare the two. An awesome Last Supper by Rubens captures the moment with vividness and the look on the face of Judas who looks out at the viewer is unsettling to say the least.
We pick up a couple cards in the museum shop and exit into the warm courtyard and try to negotiate the awkward side streets toward the Duomo where we settle in to an open-air cafe and order two plates of delicious but expensive risotto. Smokers at a table nearby cause us to choose another table and my first forkful spills down my shirt. It’s quite tasty though and we soon are ready to be off again. Anne says that she is willing to push to the Santa Maria della Grazie and see if on the outside chance we can get in to see the Last Supper. I am slightly reluctant and don’t want to be disappointed but feel we don’t have much to lose. The streets prove difficult but we stay on our route and before long are at the ticket counter. The small grim woman behind the desk shows no sympathy as she informs us that there is no way we can enter and that the tickets are all gone for the entire month. We are crestfallen in spite of the advance warning and with hanging heads exit the ticket booth and round the corner. A sturdy looking gentleman comes up to us and inquires in Italian if we have tickets, and when we sadly say no, he motions for us to follow him. He walks to the exit door, pushes it open and beckons us to enter.
Pushing aside the climate controlled doors we are allowed entry into the refectory where Leonardo’s great masterpiece dominates the far wall. We are stunned at our good fortune and knowing we only have several minutes to view the masterpiece we lose no time in approaching this marvel of the quatracento. I recall that almost exactly ten years ago I had mentioned that I would probably never see this work again. How faith has made a liar out of me for here it is and I can almost hear the redeemer’s voice, “One of you shall betray me”. The astonishment is apparent on the faces of all the apostles save Judas. His body language tells all as he firmly clutches the bagful of coins he has traded for everlasting peace. Anne considers how John could actually be Mary Magdalene as proffered by The Da Vinci Code and he certainly does look much younger and more feminine than other depictions of the blessed apostle. Twenty first century hypothesis aside the work is marvelously arranged and in spite of the damaged state Leonardo’s composition and sure hand is evident in every detail.
There are several other people within my periphery examining the details but they slowly retreat from view and I share the last few minutes with no one. Anne has a seat behind me and we are both surprised that we are allowed as much time as we have. The next crowd is lingering at the door and we hear the public address system directing us toward the exit. Anne and I look in vain for the angel that has made this unexpected delight a reality but he is nowhere to be seen. We stop briefly in the gift shop and pluck a blossom from a flowering bush for my journals.
In my greed I suggest to Anne that another Leonardo should be nearby at St. Ambrogio. It is Leonardo’s portrait of a musician and I would dearly love to see it although I don’t know if the location on the map coincides with the gallery. We take a chance and walk several blocks but the heat builds and the gallery isn’t apparent. Anne’s energy has been taxed to the limit and I make no further demands. She accepts my suggestion to stop for a cold coffee and cookie on our way back to the Duomo and feels somewhat better. By the time we return to the piazza we are still on a high from the Last Supper knowing that whatever happens for the rest of the day it will be an anti-climax considering what we’ve already witnessed. I suggest to Anne that she ascend to the roof of the Duomo to sightsee while I linger on the piazza and soak up the atmosphere. She accepts my suggestion and is gone for quite awhile. The photographs she shows me when we are reunited confirm that it was indeed a good suggestion. Magnificent views and wonderful details that can only be hinted at from ground level have been hers in marvelous detail and she even captured me sitting on my own in the now lonely piazza below.
We begin our trek back to the hotel and go by the Galleria where I had spun on the testicles of the mosaic bull yesterday. Clouds have come and we stop to share a gelato on our way back. Once in the room I begin this writing while Anne walks to the rental car lot to try to secure tomorrow’s wheels and locate a different hotel that is closer to the station and maybe a little less expensive. She succeeds in the later but we will have to hope for the best regarding our rental car. As per our hotel’s suggestion we have a terrific meal at Ilia, an authentic Tuscan restaurant since 1946. Our waiter is attentive, suggesting a delicious chianti to go with our veal and even presents us with champagne after Anne tells him that we are celebrating our 20th anniversary. At first we were the only people in the establishment but by the time we are finished the joint is full of happy couples and active kids. The day has ended as superbly as it began and in spite of the hot weather, the difficult streets and high prices of just about everything we feel blessed to be able to share this remarkable time together.
A day of highs and lows, Italian style. We rise early and Anne clips a corner of my cushion during the transfer and I’m sitting awkwardly as a result. This matters little since we will be transferring into our rental car soon. Or so we thought. Our breakfast is an elegant affair in the beautiful courtyard of the hotel. Anne gets a tray of boiled egg, bread, juice, lattes and sweet bread and we dine surrounded by begonia blossoms and remnants of Roman statuary. She will have to make two trips to the train station where we are to acquire our car. First she takes me the half mile or so and manages the trolley tracks and steep curbs with minor difficulty. I find a spot in the shade while she goes back to bring our suitcase but soon I am forced to sit out in the brilliant sunshine to escape the second hand smoke issuing from everyone’s cigarettes.
Anne returns before long and inquires about our car. In spite of the agent’s assurance the day before that we could get our ride as early as 8:30 AM, the morning attendant, who is there by himself, is adamant that we oblige by our contract and get the car no sooner than 11:30. Even if it wasn’t so hot we’d be steaming and now have to sit our bags and inhale smoke for two hours with no guarantee that we will get the kind of car we require. Finally our two-door Alfa Romeo appears and though Anne will have to break down my chair in order to fit it into the trunk. I’m glad to get out of my chair and finally be on the road but our directions aren’t very good and we’re unable to locate the autostradde. We manage to access a minor highway north that eventually links up with the main highway and before long we are passing Lake Como and enter Switzerland where we are obliged to purchase a stamp for our windshield. We exit at the South Lugano ramp and the Victoria Hotel appears right before us. We had had such a memorable time when we were here ten years ago and celebrated our tenth anniversary with a wonderful meal on the elegant balcony.
Hilariously, during that memorable dinner I ordered carpaccio not knowing that it is raw meat. I ate it and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. This time we were not to eat on the same balcony since it is closed. We are given a top floor corner suite that has a fabulous view of the Lake but that is about all it has going for it. There’s no air conditioning but a loud circulating fan instead. There is a steep threshold and though the bathroom is plenty large the toilet leaks and the noise of dripping water is incessant. Add to this that the bed is about a foot off the floor. We inform the staff and are assured the issues will be addressed. We’re anxious to get out and explore town so negotiate the difficult step outdoors and begin strolling along the waterfront. Across the street we see that a tour cruise is loading and decide to join the other sightseers for a 3-hour tour. The wind was rather stiff as we headed North but calmed considerably as we rounded and made our way around the lake. We passed Gandria and Anne points out the beautiful house where she lived for a year. Continuing down the lake we decide to disembark at Marcote, an exquisite, small lakefront town that has not changed one iota since our last visit here 10 years ago.
It’s peaceful to stroll the waterfront and we take many pictures of huge swans and the dramatic church above town. After picking up some obligatory postcards we reboard for the last leg of the journey back to Lugano where it is finally starting to cool down. We enjoy strolling into town and admire the many modern sculptures along the path. Although many sights are familiar there are lots of new buildings and the traffic seems to be much worse than we remember. It is Friday rush hour however so maybe it’s not that bad after all. We walk into the town in hopes of finding the perfect spot for dinner but all the places we see are jammed with smokers. At the end of one street we see the small church where we had renewed our vows years before and enter briefly to re-experience our joint commitment. It too seems frozen in time with red candles lit along one side and the massive fresco of heaven overhead. Now we are pretty hungry and with new determination we search and settle for alfresco dining at Tango. We share our orders of risotto and lamb and drink half our bottle of Tuscan red Chianti. The food is sumptuous, my love is ravishing and we lovingly exchange cards and poems dedicated to our love. Our walk back features a visit to Anne’s old office and a rest on a park bench while a full moon rises over Monte Bre. It has been a magical day and we feel thankful to have returned to a special place in Anne’s heart.
Our room has been reordered with an extra mattress on my side, such as it is with the springs coming out and cigarette burns gracing the surface, the toilet still leaks and the room is so warm that we will have to run the noisy fan all night.
I do a little writing while Anne calls Katie and soon she is there and we all enjoy reconnecting and start catching up on old times and new. We thought we might catch the funiculare to the top of Monte Bre but the lift is up a flight of steps. No matter. Another funiculare is within easy walking distance and the view from the top of San Salvatore is equally grand. It is free for me and Katie gets a half price fare. We switch trams halfway up the incline and the vista that is presented before us is truly magnificent. Katie points out Milan in the far distance and we can see almost the entire lake and many of the sights we had seen by boat the day before.
The weather is quite hot and though I usually don’t mind sitting in the sun it soon becomes unbearable. We find a table indoors in the cafe and order lunch. My gnocchi is excellent but a little goes a long way and I eat only about half my plate. After a most pleasant visit at a tremendous spot we reload the tram and are soon walking back to our place where I set up to paint and catch up on world news via CNN while the two girls walk the lakefront and reminisce about their time here together and enjoy each other’s company. We are scheduled to see old friends Antonio and Fiorella later over dinner and meet Biaggio, who was in a tragic motorcycle accident last year and is now a paraplegic.
I put the finishing touches on my impression of the view outside our window while Anne dresses and we wait outside for Antonio. He is quite late but it’s great to see him and we meet Biaggio who speaks no English but we manage to make introductions and begin walking along the lakefront to rendezvous with Fiorella and make our way through the beautiful park and a late dinner at a nearby yacht club. Our long dinner discussion touches on many subjects and we address many concerns Biaggio has regarding his disability. I’m not sure whether we have assuaged his anxiety or given him more to worry about but have been honest and forthright about issues that he will address in the difficult years ahead. Anne and I have ordered a fish meal to split and by the time it comes it is so dark that we can’t really tell whether we’re eating fish or the skin until we put it in our mouths. We share a bit of sweet and then wrap up our talk about disability and rehabilitation and start back.
A young group of kids take our picture and we bid goodnight to Fiorella and begin the long walk back to Paradiso and the Hotel Victoria. I’m very glad Anne has brought my jacket and the cool evening features a just nearly full moon that cast wonderful reflections on the lake. We bid a fond farewell to Antonio and Biaggio. I don’t know how much encouragement I was able to share but if he was able to see how much Anne and I love each other and how we are able to do together then he knows that he also will be able to have a full and meaningful life.
The day breaks beautiful with sunny skies full of promise and especially exciting for me, never having seen Verona before. Though Anne has been there, even attending a performance in the ancient Roman Arena, she can’t recall what is and isn’t accessible for my chair. We settle our tab after breakfast and load up the Alfa Romeo for the 3-hour drive. We had been on this road before, with Bonnie in 1999 when we drove to Venice together. I can’t help thinking that if Verona isn’t all it’s cracked up to be we have an incredible option of driving another hour to again see the jewel of the Adriatic. I keep these thoughts to myself however as Anne feels stressful enough to find our accommodations at Pellegrini Agritourismo, a working farm outside of Verona. I’m also feeling stressful, as we have made arrangements to have dinner with VDMFK President Eros Bonamini and his wonderful wife Giusi.
We take the wrong exit off the autostradde and get completely turned around in North Verona. At first we try to work our way through town and are able to locate the train station but the only directions we have is via a different exit so get back on the autostradde and take the proper ramp that coincides with the directions we have with us. Finally we arrive at our destination, Agrotourismo Pellegrini. It’s a beautiful spot and has only recently been converted from farm buildings to rooms to let. Anne is mildly disappointed that our room doesn’t have a kitchen and she won’t be able to cook but the staff is very helpful and will go out of their way to make us feel welcome. It’s still early in the day and I’m anxious to see some of the sights so I don’t get out of the car and we drive on into the old part of town to visit the Duomo and see what we can before our rendezvous with the Bonominis.
The street signs are rather confusing and it takes all my skill as a navigator and all of Anne’s considerable skill as driver to find our way. We park within sight of the Duomo’s bell tower along the river and are very glad to have brought our disabled parking permit but are still kicking ourselves for forgetting the GPS. It’s a bit of a struggle with all the cobblestones in the old section of town but we manage to get to the Duomo and are pleasantly surprised to see that there is a museum attached that features an astounding array of clerical material and fragments of ancient frescos. We are admitted for free and talk with other tourists from Australia and New Zealand.
After the museum we enter the Duomo itself and find the peaceful, spiritual center within ourselves while taking in the sacred surroundings. Since it is Sunday there is still a faint hint of incense in the air and the relief from the heat outside is a blessing in itself. I gratefully nod to the ticket taker at the entrance as we leave and head towards a bridge that will take us back toward the car but first we will see the ancient Roman Theatre. Our admittance here is free also but we have to wait for a guard to escort us to a back gate and only the lower portion is readily accessible once Anne manages me through some loose gravel. A stage is set up and it’s great to see that this is not some ruin but a working performance space with regular shows. After sharing a gelato we reload and head back but get completely turned around and only Anne’s calm recollection gets us back just ahead of the Bonamini’s.
Since our place doesn’t offer dinner they suggest we follow them to Winckel, a fantastic place way out in the country and we dine in high style with pasta, risotto, polenta and wine from the area. We enjoy a long conversation but the translation duties for Anne becomes tiring. She is as gracious as ever and we have a terrific and memorable time together. I hadn’t slept well the night before and by the time we have said our goodbyes and gotten an escort back to our rooms I am completely exhausted with no energy to write and take to the funky bed with deep gratitude for a remarkable day and hopeful dreams for another tomorrow.
Originally, we had planned to ditch the car here and take the train to Pisa but this would’ve required us to rise about three AM and hope for connections in Florence. By driving ourselves we can set our own schedule and be more flexible. We will have a long day of driving ahead of us though and manage to rise early, pack our things and fill up on breakfast in time to hit the road with the rest of the commuters. The funky farm smell lingers in our vehicle for a while and it becomes apparent that the day is going to be swelteringly hot. Thank goodness we have air blowing on us and are not in a huge hurry. We comply with the unwritten rules of the road and stay in the right lane unless we are passing which is often due to the many trucks and semis rolling along. The scenery is pleasant enough with ancient castles on the hilltops and farms and industry along the highway. Somewhere along the way I have skinned my right elbow and take care to not rest it against the door and aggravate it worse. Anne manages the traffic beautifully though the highway signs aren’t easy and the dozens of tunnels requires her to constantly take her sunglasses off and on. We climb a mountain pass that offers terrific views of the valley below where the traffic builds as we skirt the northern edge of Florence. It doesn’t take much further to arrive in Lucca where Anne checks into the Hotel Rex that is right next to the train station and has a great room for us.
We only have the remainder of the day to explore Pisa so head out directly and take a back road for the seventeen-kilometer drive. As we approach we can make out the failure of tower building that has made this town famous the world over and after parking it seems that every tourist in Italy has converged here today. Massive crowds congregate around the tower, Duomo and Baptistry and are especially thick along the dozens of souvenir stands that border the edge of the grounds. It’s a wondrous sight and the tower gleams in the midday sun as if has just been polished. We find a cafe within sight of the tilting structure and share a pizza and a half-liter of white wine. This probably wasn’t a great idea as the wine affects Anne’s energy level and combined with the heat renders us listless. I hadn’t slept well the night before but am holding up better than I thought I would. Anne declines my suggestion to climb the tower and we enter the magnificent Duomo and marvel at the art within. Majestic paintings, carvings and saintly tombs are abundant and the crowds within seem as interested in escaping the outside heat as they are in the history of the edifice. My access in the Duomo is no problem but unfortunately the elegant Baptistry is up too many steps.
I console myself with a tour of some ancient frescoes in a museum nearby and then share a refreshing gelato with my beloved. In spite of the heat and our flagging energy, Anne is willing to push me around the town a bit and we soon spy a small shop that is jammed with antiques but display some etchings. We decide on a typical scene in color that depicts the tower and is only ten Euros. After a few more streets we work our way back to the car and return to Lucca where the day is blessedly beginning to cool down. After settling into our room we ask for and receive a recommendation for dinner at De Leo, about halfway through the old town. A gravel path leads to an inaccessible staircase but soon we’re on the proper route and follow our map with ease. We spot a young man with no arms painting with his mouth on one of the squares and introduce ourselves. It turns out that he is a student member of VDMFK from Romania. His Italian isn’t very good and we’re unable to converse but we’re reminded of the broad reach of our group. Dinner is sensational and our method of sharing a salad and entree of roasted chicken and herbed potatoes works beautifully and is very reasonable. We stroll back with the lights of the city creating a fabulous mood and the cool air is a welcome relief.
Our morning will be stressed on account of returning the rental car and making arrangements to access the train tomorrow into Florence. We calculate and I determine that to be ready for our train back to Milan and the long flight home I will need to eat just enough to keep me from being hungry for the next couple of days and only eat a boiled egg, yogurt and coffee for breakfast.
I lay back in the room and read and write while Anne attends to our transportation issues. She’s back before long and we’re set for the walk into the walled city. My guide says a pinacoteca is not too far away but once we get there we find it inaccessible. I suggest we head towards the Piazza Anfiteatro, a circular piazza build around a Roman amphitheater. Along the way we stop for a coffee and bruschetta. In an adjacent square a woman is yelling to such a degree that police finally bundle her away in a squad car. We see my colleague again and give him some coins, meet his father and get a photo. The shops along the Via Fillungo are fashionable but there aren’t many customers. It’s hot but the high narrow buildings present plenty of shade. We let the shade and road conditions guide our way and are soon on the piazza. One of the shops offers nice etchings but they’re closed.
We meander towards the botanical gardens and Anne snaps many terrific shots. The garden’s paths are all loose gravel so we just take a look around the entrance area and then Anne pushes me up a long incline to the top of the wall. The view from the top is terrific with the countryside in the distance and the roofs, balconies and towers of the old town close by. We get about halfway around before re-entering the town to check out a dinner option and the smell from their open door is divine but there is no outside dining. We stop for a drink on the Piazza San Michele and enjoy not struggling with the thick crowds and rough going. The church is open and we turn our spirits inward once inside. The dark confines contrast dramatically with the brightness outdoors and after leaving, once our eyes adjust, we pass hometown icon Puccini’s square and stroll back towards the piazza where I still hoped to acquire an etching. No such luck but after rolling down a few streets we see another gallery that offers a juicy little monochrome etching of the basilica and tower.
We’re kind of spent and decide to head back to the hotel and share a tiramisu gelato before getting to our room to pack. We share some bread, cheese, prosciutto, pickle and wine that we had with us for dinner and Anne is especially glad to get a peaceful evening in preparation for the certain stress that Florence will certainly be. Unfortunately, it appears that we have mislaid our camera download cord and our favorite cribbage board. Rats! It’s been a curious day staying in one place the whole time and Lucca is small enough that we crisscrossed the entire town several times. The weather report calls for some rain tomorrow but so far it’s been sunny and warm every day.
It is still very dark when we rise and the desk clerk is the only other person around. He gives us a hand with our bags and we cross the piazza to the train station where porters are ready to help me board. The train is only a few minutes late and there is no trouble getting on and even less when we arrive in Florence and are able to exit under our own power. The day has dawned bright but not too warm and I’m happy to sit alongside the street while Anne takes our bags the short distance to the Hotel Albani, the most opulent place we will stay during our trip. Anne returns and we immediately head towards the Academia where Michelangelo’s David resides in serene grandeur. We know that we will not only get in free but can buck the line that is already stretched down the block. There is a curious exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs that at first seems out of place among the ancient work but on closer inspection they fit right in, especially given the fragmentary slaves that Michelangelo left unfinished and other drawings by the master that compliment the exhibition. In staring at David while I slowly move around him I sense movement in the colossus and the milling crowd seems to disappear.
The other paintings and sculptures are well worth seeing but are rather anticlimactic after this masterpiece of the quatrocento. We have another example of Michelangelo’s genius at the nearby Opera del Museo that I have never seen before on account of restoration during our previous visits. He had smashed his Pieta, his last work, because of a flaw in the marble and the crack running along Christ’s left arm is distinctly apparent. Other works in the Opera del Museo are stunning and the contemporary setting of the museum contrasts vividly with the works within. We pick up a couple sweet etchings in the gift shop and continue along the pulverizing cobblestones toward the Bargello where Michelangelo shares space with the other giants of the sculptural arts.
These are his earlier works with the drunken Bacchus dominating his room, a tondo work of the Mary and Christ Child. Later we see magnificent work including the Davids by Verrocchio and Donatello. Cellini, Della Robbio and many other lesser known artists who vie for space in this old prison where the open courtyard still emanates the dreadful feeling of executions performed here. We take a passing interest in the medallions, ivories and miscellaneous examples from other cultures and I am astonished to see Bernini’s famed portrait bust of his two-timing mistress. We are set to move into the Uffizi but will find a nice spot for lunch. We luck out for once and find a place without smokers where Anne enjoys fruitta de mare and I devour my breaded chicken. In our excitement or because of a mental lapse we leave my splint behind! Fortunately we later remembered and Anne was able to retrieve it.
It’s still a hassle to get into the galleries to the Uffizi. With the help of another tourist we pop off my wheels and soon I’m resurrected on the upper floor. Anne’s rests on a bench while explore the early renaissance rooms. I especially consider the gold backgrounds in many of the works and the incorporation of lettering on the garments. We reunite just as I enter the Botticelli rooms and we linger long before both Primavera and Birth of Venus. Leonardo is wonderfully represented by his Adoration of the Magi, The Annunciation and the angel he did as a student of Verrocchio, the Baptism of Christ. Anne gets ahead of me and I’m drawn to a particularly well-informed guide and listen to his explanation of The Holy Family by Michelangelo and The Venus of Urbino by Titian, The Mannerist section blows me away again and Bronzino, Rosso and Vasari create a vivid world. Three Rembrandts are here including an early self-portrait. I particularly enjoy seeing Crespi's "the Flea". The Studiolo is under renovation and a few key works aren’t available but others are temporarily installed in a gallery on the far wing. Anne checks ahead in the museum cafe for a coffee but the prices are high and we will enjoy something refreshing once we’ve left the museum. It’s equally difficult to exit and we barely shop in the museum stores.
It’s been a remarkable tour of cultural treasure that I hope someday to repeat. I have promised Anne that I will not view the paintings at the Pitti Palace and once we see the masses upon the Ponte Vecchio I am glad that we will be spared the struggle of dealing with the throngs. Instead, we head back to the Hotel Albertini to check in and ascertain our accessibility. We’re shown to our opulent room with Picassos on the wall, patterned fabric wallpaper and plush bed. Unfortunately, the bathroom is completely inaccessible and we’re obligated to move across the courtyard to a smaller but no less deluxe space. The cost is the same but at least we won’t have to use the stair lift. This is where we discover my missing splint and I lay back and rest while Anne retrieves it and tries to locate the restaurant where we had a memorable meal ten years ago. She succeeds on both counts and soon we prepare in our finer clothes for a sensational evening. It’s great to know our way around and we barely need to refer to our street map.
La Madia has a pleasant location on Viale Giglio and we’ve a 7:30 reservation that we’re only a few minutes late for. The warmth of the evening, the glow from a half bottle of excellent Tuscan red wine and the smile on the face of my love combine to make the experience exceptional. Her initial order of wild boar stew isn’t to her liking and I’m perfectly willing to swap the stuffed rabbit I had ordered. It is a special joy to toast our love and enjoy the company we have in each other in such a magical city. We take the remaining wine back with us and will share it over lunch tomorrow. Twinkling lights overhead illuminate our walk back and the lack of evening tourists make our walk easier. We sleep with a grateful peace and are well rested for our last day.
We are pleasantly surprised that the complimentary breakfast is a full buffet rather than the meager offerings noted in our room guide and we are well prepared for the day. The weather is still warm, clear and perfect for sightseeing and we give thanks for having such great luck the whole trip. I’m anxious to see if any improvements have been made to the Medici Chapel accessibility but am not too surprised to see that it is still up a huge flight of steps. Anne tours the holy space while I examine some engravings on the main floor. We find a Harley Davidson shirt for Patty among the vendor stalls, an olive oil spout for Bonnie’s birthday and yet again a small etching from an artist I seem to recall from our previous visit. I know that I can access the Duomo so we make our way through the building crowds and enter by a side door where we had stashed one of my pins three years ago. We’re unable to find the pin but sense the magnificence of the interior and are thankful that the number of tourists is strictly monitored.
The space is not the solemn reflective atmosphere one might hope for and the side chapels are roped off but it is still an inspiring experience and only with some reluctance do we exit to pods of foreign tourists trooping by outside and souvenir vendors hawking their trinkets. We’ve brought our wine and I have a determined idea for lunch. A pizzeria offers some tasty looking panini and we make our way to the Loggia on the Piazza Segnoria. On a stone bench under Cellini’s bronze of Perseus holding aloft the head of Medusa we enjoy a lunch we will not soon forget. After seeing so much more than we had hoped for yesterday I am satisfied to not rush our day and we linger for a while before entering the Palazzo Vecchio where among other treasures we will view our last Michelangelo. His Victory of Genius is compelling and the restrain of action he demonstrates in most of his work is abundantly evident here also. We are a little surprised that we are charged admission but thankfully the crowds are light and it is a pleasant alternative to the more popular sites. Anne is delighted to see Eleanor’s Chapel, a small but fabulous space with magnificent frescoes by Bronzino. I find it incongruous that so much of the decorations feature pagan motifs and the only Christian references are in paintings in the Botticelli manner. There is a chapel that leads to the magistrate’s imposing space that is clearly designed to humble one before the powerful administrators. Verocchio’s Boy Holding a Dolphin brings a smile and a replica holds place of honor in its original courtyard downstairs. We are running out of time and stop briefly for gelato and Anne is able to see the beauty within Orsanmichele Church.
Our remaining moments are spent next to the Baptistery with a fantastic view of the Duomo and Giotto’s bell tower. We enjoy a beer while Anne writes several postcards and then pushes toward the train station where I will wait until she returns with our luggage. The porters are expert at getting me aboard the express train that will transport us back to Milan and we both take to our paperbacks en route. Dark, ominous clouds are on the horizon when we disembark and I wait quite awhile before Anne returns with the news that our scheduled hotel isn’t accessible and we have been forced to relocate. The Michelangelo Hotel offers us their best room at half the rate they normally charge with his and her bathrooms and amenities we’ve never enjoyed. It is a fitting conclusion to a trip full of joyous surprises and we soon are dining elegantly in the hotel restaurant while booming thunder signals a welcome rainstorm outside. We share delicious risotto and lamb and then retire to our room where I prepare for the long journey home and Anne puts our belongings in order.
Thankfully, the rain has abated and we’re rushed through our complimentary breakfast in time to get to the train station nearby for our shuttle to Malpensa Airport. I read the paper en route and soon we’re hassling as usual with security and the other obligations of international travel. Our flight is almost three hours late taking off but they assure us we can make up time with strong tail winds. It hardly matters to us, as we will be laying over in Atlanta with plenty of time on our hands. I shouldn’t like to end my account of a fantastic trip with observations about poor treatment by Delta staff but being referred to as a “carry on” was particularly offensive. We are both grateful to touch down safely and can hardly wait to get home and into bed after being up for 32 hours. We’ve had a better time than we optimistically thought, it was great to catch up with old friends and the wealth of cultural and culinary treats deepened our spirits. I am eternally grateful to Anne for all she did to make this happen. Her resolve, beauty of spirit and cheerful countenance made the journey a delight from beginning to end. TYGD