Friday, 10 September 2004 – Florence

I got up at 5:40 to get some more crowd-free photos. My first stop was the Mercato Nuovo – the leather-goods market – where we had seen a brass fountain in the form of a life-sized boar. Tourists pet the boarís snout, place a coin it its mouth, then let the coin fall into the trough. Custom has it that doing so ensures that you will return to Florence. At 6:00 in the morning, there were no tourists, and none of the market vendors were even setting up yet.

Next, I went to the Duomo to get pictures of the bell tower, and from there to Piazza della Signore. I wanted a nice picture of the Neptune fountain with the water blurred, but the water was not running. I got some nice pictures anyway. There were lights on in the sculpture garden on the south side of the piazza. I shot some pictures of the Rape of the Sabine Women, Perseus, and a couple of wide angle shots. Then the lights went out, so I got some more shots with only the natural light of the predawn sky.

While I was shooting Perseus, a young Asian man approached me (it was only 6:30am) and asked if I knew where the "skit office" was. He repeated the question several times, but I couldnít fathom what he was talking about. When I said, "I donít understand", he smiled, said "OK" and walked on.

My next stop, as the sun was rising, was the courtyard of the Uffizi, where there are statues of famous Florentines from the renaissance. I shot several of them, then moved on to Ponte Vecchio, where I wasnít inspired to take many shots, and I headed back to the hotel.

I woke Chris up and we headed down to breakfast. We were running out of clean clothes, so we packed up the dirty ones and headed to the laundry down the street. All of the washers were full. We dragged the bag around looking for the other laundry we had seen, but couldnít find it. So much for mental notes. We finally decided to pay to have it washed and dried for us. We dropped it off near the hotel, where the frazzled woman behind the counter said she wouldnít have time to fold the clothes. We said, OK, and left her with our plastic bags of laundry.

Chris postulated that the woman would at least put the clothes neatly back into our bags. I contended that she would just scrape them out of the drier into our bags. Chris bet me a euro I was wrong. We would find out at 7:00 that evening when we picked up the clean laundry.

With Chris free from doing laundry, she accompanied me to look for an internet café. We tried to find one we had passed with Theresa and Christian several nights before. We wandered all over that neighborhood, but couldnít find it. Finally, we headed back to the one I had used before. Right across the street was another internet point. I asked and found out I could use my computer there, and it would be much cheaper than my original stop. While I sent and received e-mail and checked on a list of items on the net, Chris shopped on the street outside. When I was done, I looked up and down the street for her, but couldnít find her.

Rather than wander around, I went back to the internet point, figuring she could find me there. About 5 minutes later, she came in smiling and out of breath, saying "I found the market!" We had seen street vendors set up when we were in the Duomo the day before, and Chris had found the street where they were. She took me back to it, but Iím no fun to shop with. She sent me away after I gave her my cash. I didnít know when I would see her again.

I went back to the hotel where I showered, then grabbed the little camera and took off to get lunch and some more cash. As I strolled, I noticed a store with the unlikely name "WIPASS". I donít know how it is pronounced. I suppose it depends on whether they sell it by the can or the roll. I found a cash machine, bought a sandwich, and went back to the room to eat, then worked on this journal.

Shortly after 1:00, Chris came back carrying bags of loot. She had bought scarves, necklaces, a sunglasses case, and a pretty orange skirt. She had haggled for prices and had ended up spending less than €40. Tired from our busy morning, we took a quick nap, then decided how to spend the rest of our day.

At 3:00, we went to the train station. We bought our ticket to Rome for the next day; we would leave at 9:53am. Still at the station, we got on bus #12 again to head to Porta Roma, a monument on the south end of the "downtown area". Chris wanted to check out the Institute DíArte after seeing it on our map. We rode the bus to Porta Roma and walked around the circle towards the Art Institute. As we were passing by a parking lot, a man asked if we spoke English. When we answered yes, he asked where we parked. We smiled at each other and told him "California". He was trying to get to see Michelangeloís David and wanted to know what parking was like there. We couldnít help him. After a little more chit-chat (heís from Widby Island, WA; he, his wife, and their daughter were driving through on their way to Rome and wanted to see the statue – not a copy of the statue), he went back to his car, where his wife and daughter were waiting.

We headed into the Institute DíArte, which looked like a park. At the end of the park area was the institute building. As we got closer to it, we could see that it wasnít open. In fact, it did not look like it had been open for about a decade. The building was in disrepair with cracked plaster, peeling paint, and broken windows. We could hear work going on inside, so perhaps workers were restoring it. We did notice that one end of the building had fresh plaster and paint.

Leaving the institute, we walked up several quiet streets, working our way back toward the river. We passed small shops that had normal, everyday goods like food and cookware. It looked like few tourists came that way. We crossed the Arno on Ponte Santa Sprito and headed up the street toward Il Latini, the restaurant we planned to try that night. The menu looked expensive and touristy, so we decided to skip it. Keeping an eye out for another dinner spot, we continued back toward our hotel.

We walked up a street we hadnít been on before and saw an Osteria (a type of restaurant). The menu looked good and the prices reasonable. A young man was cleaning the place up, and we asked if we could make a reservation. He put us down for 7:30 that night. Chris said, "Now we just need to remember where it is." I turned her around, we walked 20 feet down the street, and I said, pointing to the cross street, "This is the street that Sostanza is on." We were right around the corner from our hotel!

On our way back to our room, we stopped for a beer at Sandra e Claudioís. We took our time showering and getting ready for dinner. After a short walk from our hotel, we arrived at the restaurant right at 7:30. We were seated right away. The waiter and waitress spoke Italian as long as we could follow them, and they switched to English only when necessary. We really appreciated that, as it gave us a chance to practice our Italian. In addition to the waiter and waitress, there was a hostess who spoke perfect English with a slight British accent.

The menu listed mainly seafood, but it also included duck and beef. Chris ordered an appetizer of porcini mushrooms and parmesan cheese. We decided to share the first course of black ravioli stuffed with crustaceans. For our secondi, Chris ordered sea bream, and I ordered tuna rolled in poppy seeds. Chris let me have a little bit of her appetizer, but it was so good, she kept the rest for herself. She said, "You could have ordered one yourself," and I guess she was right.

The ravioli arrived, and it was, indeed, black. It was also delicious – slightly spicy shellfish meat in the pockets of perfectly cooked black pasta. I guessed that the pasta was colored with squid ink. The hostess confirmed that it was when we asked her. The restaurant was pretty full, and there were only two cooks in the kitchen. Every meal was prepared to order, so it took a while to get our secondi. In the meanwhile, we enjoyed each otherís company, the atmosphere of the restaurant, and observing the other patrons.

Another American couple had been seated at our table while we ate our pasta. During a lull in the service we chatted briefly with them. They were from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We talked a little about the recent hurricanes and our respective trips. It was their last night in Florence as it was ours.

Our secondi arrived around 8:45. They had been worth waiting for. Chrisís bream was a perfectly cooked, mostly filleted white fish. The head and tail were on the plate as part of the presentation. My tuna was a large steak that had been covered in poppy seeds, and then baked. The outside was flaky, and the innermost part was still raw. The seasonings, textures, and varying flavors throughout the steak were wonderful.

We had saved room for gelato, which we bought and ate on our way back to the hotel. I made the mistake of throwing my spoon in the trash, but Chris saved hers for her collection. Before we headed to bed, we figured out how much time we would need in the morning to pack and get checked out. We added half an hour for padding and set the alarm for 7:30am. Chris was still awake and ready to stay up, but I had gotten up two and a half hours before her, so I went right to sleep while she read.

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