Wednesday, 8 September 2004 – Florence

We got up at 7:30 so we could eat breakfast and arrive at the entrance to the Duomo dome by 8:30. Our guidebook said thatís when it opened, and it was the best time to get there to avoid long lines. When we got there, the door was closed, and there was a sign on the wall that said the dome was closed until 10:00 because of a church event.

We went back to the hotel, where Chris took a nap. I grabbed the laptop and set out to find an internet café where I could plug it in or use my wireless card. The previous day an attendant at another internet café had circled a location on my map where he said I could use wireless. I headed in that direction. The route took me past the train station into a neighborhood we hadnít walked to before.

I found an internet café, if not the one the attendant had circled. I went in and asked if they had wireless. The attendant pointed to the wireless access point in the corner and said, "Not working." I asked if I could plug my laptop into a cable and he said yes, and showed me the rates. They looked reasonable, so I plugged in, sent some messages I had queued up, and downloaded my e-mail for the first time in four days.

Chrisís messages were mostly spam, but I had received some real messages from her parents and mine, as well as Chrisís sister, Ann. I had just sent messages to our parents, so I just wrote back a quick note to Ann, checked for any exciting headlines (none, really) and disconnected. I was online for about 15 minutes, and the attendant charged me €2.40.

By the time I was back at the hotel and Chris was ready to leave again, it was nearly 10:30. We walked back to the Duomo only to find a huge line for the dome. It stretched from the front of the dome (where the dome entrance is) around the corner to the back of the church. Yuck. We didnít want to stand in that!

Instead, we headed back toward our hotel. We had seen a jewelry store along the route the day before, and we wanted to get some earrings for our neighbor. We found the store and browsed for a while. Chris ended up buying a lovely, contemporary, asymmetrical necklace made of large-gauge wire and rubber. We also bought some nice red-and-green jeweled earrings for our neighbor.

We dropped off the jewelry at our room, and headed off for our next destination: Piazzale Michelangelo. We bought sandwiches and chips at Sandra e Claudio and a banana from a vendor in front of the train station.

Piazzale Michelangelo is on the south side of the Arno River, southeast of the Duomo. It is perched atop a hill that gives it a wonderful view of Florence. It was about two miles from our hotel, so we took the #12 bus from the train station, across the river, through busy streets, and finally along a narrow, curving road through lush trees. We got off the bus at the piazzale.

I had been expecting a park-like location, but the piazzale is literally a parking lot. It is completely paved and every space was taken by cars. Beside the parking area the pavement continues in an area that is chained off and used by vendors. Near the center of the piazzale is a copy of Michelangeloís David, cast in copper. It looks northwest, toward the Duomo.

Since there was no shade on the piazzale, Chris and I sat down on steps under some trees off to the side. There we ate our picnic lunch and enjoyed the views. After lunch, we walked around the piazzale a little more. At one corner, I noticed a Japanese couple trying to balance their camera on a streetlight stand. I asked if they wanted me to take their picture, not knowing if they would understand or not. The woman replied in perfect, barely accented English that they would, and she showed me how to operate their cute, little, cutting-edge, Japanese digital camera.

When I had taken their picture, they returned the favor, using my not-so-cute, not-so-little Japanese camera. Next, we headed down a path on the north side of the piazzaleís hill. About half way down the hill, we came across a small park with benches in the shade. We sat down on one of the shadier benches and read for about an hour.

At 1:30, my phone buzzed. It was Theresa. They had just checked into their Florence hotel. They didnít know what they were going to do with the afternoon, but she would call back when they had their plans. Chris and I went back to reading. After a while, the bench got hard, so we decided to move on. Towards the bottom of the hill, we found a small piazza in front of 4 very old grottos. The grottos were covered with blobs that looked like mud bird nests. There were pigeons roosting in the grottos, but we didnít think they had made the nests.

Just a little further down, we found another tiny piazza that had a small stage in front of another grotto. There were tables and chairs around the stage, but no one was there and there were no vendors. We settled at one of the tables to read some more in the shade of the hill. It was very pleasant.

Theresa called again at 2:55. They were going to try to tour the Duomo and would meet us at our hotel at 6:00. We read for a little longer, and then walked back towards our hotel. As we got back out to the road that runs along the bank of the Arno, we spied a mother and her little boy – about 3 years old – on the other side. He was shouting something we couldnít understand. Moments later, his meaning became clear, as she put him on the edge of the sidewalk, aimed him towards the street, and pulled his pants down. He immediately started peeing. He must have had to go pretty badly, because he was still peeing after we crossed the street and walked behind them.

We had walked across a deserted, closed Ponte Vecchio the morning of the day before. We decided to see what it was like in the height of the day. It was crowded, and there was a lot of jewelry on display. Hundreds of shops line the sides of the bridge. Most of them sell gold jewelry. Thousands of people wander slowly past the shops looking at the sparkly things. We joined them.

When we finally got to the opposite side of the bridge, we decided to try to find the photography exhibit at Pallazo Ferragamo again. This time, we found a side door that had been closed the previous day. We went downstairs where, sure enough, there was a photography exhibit. A young woman behind the desk informed us the price was €9 each. I handed her a €50 note, and she asked if I didnít have twenty. I didnít, and she could not give us change for a fifty. I found that very strange. Then I asked if she would take a credit card. She looked shocked and said "We donít have a machine" in a tone that made it clear the question had been stupid.

Unable to pay in an acceptable manner, we left the exhibit. We window-shopped back toward our hotel. At a bar on the way, we bought a 66cl (22-oz) bottle of beer. We took it back to the hotel, had the receptionist open it, and took it to our room. There, we split the beer, downloaded pictures from our cameras, relaxed, and I updated this journal.

Theresa and Christian came to our hotel at 6:00. We caught up on their trip and told them about our stay so far in Florence. Around 7:00, we asked the hotel receptionist for restaurant recommendations. She gave us two: a place just down the street from Sostanza and a trattoria on the other side of Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The first one was closed until 7:30, so we walked over to the second, Trattoria Trebbia. It was just opening when we got there and had outdoor tables. The location and menu looked pretty good, so we asked if we could get a table outside.

The waiter asked if we had reservations, but he gave us a table even when we said, "No." We all got the distinct impression that the waiter was put out with us. He just wasnít very friendly. He gave us English menus that were poorly translated. What is "Stickes mixt meat"? How about "smalted"? Is that melted or salted?

Theresa knows quite a bit of Italian, and she used some of it when the waiter arrived to get our drink orders. He steadfastly spoke English back to us, though, as if we werenít supposed to use Italian.

We did manage to order salads, pasta, water, and wine. When the food arrived, it was so-so – nothing out of the ordinary. At about 8:30 Christian paid the bill. When the waiter retrieved the signed credit card slip, he motioned toward people waiting for tables and said something in rapid Italian (finally). Theresa said, "He wants us to give up the table." And so we allowed ourselves to be chased away. Overall, Trattoria Trebbia was a disappointment.

We made up for the meal by stopping by our gelateria and treating ourselves to some delicious, cold, sweet gelatos. When we were finished Theresa and Christian headed back to their hotel – after giving Chris their gelato spoons – and we went back to ours. Four more spoons for the project, whatever it turned out to be.

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