Screaming Italians, masterpieces and the best food I've ever eaten!

Saturday, August 5, 2006 (DAY 11)
Florence, Italy

Today was one of the best days of the whole trip. Florence is a fabulous city!

We started off the day with a leather demonstration, which, honestly, I wasn’t too excited about, but it turned out to be pretty interesting. Florence is famous for their leather, especially their Florentine boxes, and the woman at Leonardo’s Leather Shop did a great job of sharing the craft with us. The boxes of distinct shape are made solely from leather. The crafters make them through a molding process, layering up to four pieces of skin, which makes them extremely strong (and expensive). A box smaller than a deck of cards costs about 35€.

After that, we had some free time before our walking tour, so a few of us stopped in at a little cafĂ© for a mid-morning snack. I had this amazing sandwich that had like a spinach/egg mix on a panini. Delicioso! I also added a cup of the world’s best coffee onto my tab. I still can’t get over how great Italian coffee is!

Our walking tour, let by a nice Italian man, better acquainted us with the city we explored last night in the dark. And as beautiful as it was under the shining stars, it’s even more impressive in the daylight. My favorite scenic spot was Florence’s famous bridge, Ponte Vecchio, but we also saw several piazzas, or town squares, as well as the Duomo cathedral. After the tour we all broke off and went our separate ways.

Kathryn, Kelly and I took off on our own exploration of the city, stopping first at a random church that was not the Duomo, but still looked pretty impressive. A tip we learned for anyone interested in church touring: Try to get out of paying the ticket fee and skip the line by going in through the prayer entrance. The church guards cannot deny people wanting to pray. So it might be a little sacreligious, but what is a poor college student to do? Unfortunately, by doing things this way, you might not be able to view all the special displays, but you will get a great view of the sanctuary plus some less traveled, but still beautiful, chapel rooms. And you might want to throw up a word or two to the big guy upstairs.

Unfortunately, our newly-discovered trick did not go over so well at the Duomo, but according to our local tour guide, the outside is much more magnificent than the inside anyway.

Next stop – David.

We almost illegally cut the long lines to the Academia, David’s home, thanks to a helpful tip from Pete. However, Kathryn managed to get kicked out by a screaming Italian woman, and Kelly and I felt bad leaving her alone, so we followed her out and ended up waiting in a 45-minute line (which really wasn’t all that bad). But just in case you end up in Florence and want to save some time going to the Academia, tell the guards by the entrance that you just want to take a peek at the bookstore, then in stupid American tourist fashion, just happen to stumble into the front of the line for the galleries. (If you’re a cute girl, this trick may work more easily for you.)

But in the end, I’m happy to say I got to see Michaelangelo’s David. According to a number of sources (I believe both Pete and our local tour guide relayed this information to us), the sculpture is so impressive because it is one of the best interpretations of the human form, embodied in 15 feet of pure white marble. And I got a picture! I know, another no-no, but I just couldn’t resist, and in the meantime got yelled at in Italian by a museum guard. Actually, I got 3 pics… and a video. OOPS!

The rest of the museum was all Catholic art – I guess that’s how you’d describe it. I’m not real knowledgeable on the subject. Most of it comes from the 1300-1400s and is plated in gold, depicting the life of Jesus Christ. It really is fascinating artwork, and would love to learn more about it.

But moving on, I had lunch No. 2, a cheese and salami sandwich. I LOVE the sandwiches here!! And then headed back to the hotel to prepare for the evening.

Dinner was a real treat. We had an authentic Tuscan dinner at a place called La Certosa. Coming up to the restaurant, we walked into a garden/patio area where we were served a glass of champagne and did a bit of mingling. Then we headed into the main dining area, which was set up a bit like a banquet hall with long tables covered in white table cloths. We started off dinner with an appetizer of various vegetables and pastas while Mario, the D.J. (or more like wedding singer) began playing some cheesy American tunes. The next course was the pasta dish, penne pasta and lasagna that melts in your mouth. The this point came the opera singer, accompanied by Luigi on accordian. (And yes, I realize our entertainers were Mario and Luigi … I’m not kidding on this one.) Between our pasta and anti-pasta courses we got up and danced. Another Contiki tour joined us. Then for our anti-pasta, we had beef and potatoes. Of course the meal was topped off with tiramasu and white and red wines. It’s the Italian way. If night’s can be delectable, this one was. Plus I ate so much!

Luckily, I still had time to dance it off, because next we were off to Space Electronica Discoteque, a sharp contrast to our fab dinner, but just as great. The dance floor was crazy, playing the best dance and hip hop from the past 10 years. The best part was all the different people – Italians, Americans, Kiwis and Aussies – all dancing the night away.

I will never forget this little taste of Florence, and hopefully I’ll return, but tomorrow it’s off to do as the Romans do!

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